Public Defender Service, Mental Health Division for the District of Columbia, Intern Investigator at your service..

Public Defender Service, Mental Health Division for the District of Columbia, Intern Investigator at your service..

Public Defender Service, Mental Health Division for the District of Columbian, Intern Investigator, at your service...

Try saying that three times, fast! Well, I can and I do, constantly. My internship at Public Defender Service, Mental Health Division of D.C was the best possible internship, ever! Thanks to my awesome Program Advisor, Amanda Raymond, who sent off my packet to them, I was able to accept a position they had available. PDS, MHD DC is located on the historical campus of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a maximum security mental health institution. If you know the name, then either you have family there, recognize it for some of its past innovative treatments, or know about its most famous occupant; John Hinkley. The campus is full of Victorian Gothic buildings with huge open verandas that are screen netted enough that you can only see who occupies the room if you get very close.  However, due to structural issues, the campus was unable to restore some of its many buildings and instead built two new buildings that are similar to maximum security prison instead of a safe haven for patients.

Over the summer, most of the Law and Criminal Justice students prepared to have various interviews with different internship sites but from the 10 or so interns I spoke with via our Facebook Group none of them were taking this job seriously. It doesn’t sound glamorous on paper: “Some clients may be unable to understand and comprehend what you are saying. Maximum Security Mental Health Ward, Severe Mental Illness.” I mean, I don’t blame anyone. From the moment I read the description until the time I interviewed for the position, I told people that I was going to work at PDS MHD because I believed that I could do this job. Once the interview was over, I immediately was asked for the position and I immediately accepted. Friends, families and other interns chastized me and said that it was too soon to decide whether or not this was the “right” internship for me. “Public Defenders are everywhere” was the most common saying. However, there are not many Public Defender, Mental Health Division with a Chief of Mental Health for the entire District. Who, occasionally comes to work in riding his bike in too little, bike shorts!  Out of the 50 or so TWC LCJ interns that interviewed, 3 were chosen, from our program, including me and only 2 stayed past the first day, the other intern is Tara Emery, LCJ, University of Toledo. I was very fortunate to have this internship and I will never forget my experience.

General Overview

I was the first contact from our office to the clients. Clients are citizens who were brought in emergency, or FD-12, and are now being held involuntarily at a mental health floor of a hospital. My job is to go to the client, check their legal status, (voluntary, involuntary or released), tell them who I am and what services we provide, explain their legal status in depth, ask them what they would like to do from this point and explain how we can help them in doing that. On occasion, I would only need to speak to the doctor and find out the client would be released in a few days. Ssome clients would like to get help for a while, others would want to call in a Probable Cause Hearing. A Probable Cause Hearing is a hearing in which the client and the lawyer go to court to argue that the client is not a danger to themselves or others. The hearing is usually within 24 hours to a few days. This requires a series of calls on part of the investigator, me. Speaking to family members, police officers, case workers and friends requires a person who can be both practical and compassionate at the same time. You must gather a lot of information as soon as possible and relay this to the attorney who will be analyzing the data and finding a way to defend our client.

Preparing for the future

Being in the Law and Criminal Justice Program, on the law side, this was the perfect internship because of the one-on-one assistance and help that I received from each of the 16 lawyers in our office. Each gave me unique and challenging tasks to complete as well as personalized advice as far as Law School and the LSAT. I was also able to witness court on a weekly basis both criminal and family. You have access to exclusive, sometimes news worthy cases such as the Chandra Levy Case.

For future TWC Interns at PDS, MHD

Enjoy it! We were allowed to wear casual clothes, excluding court, and Brenda is always wearing something cool. Though we are not in the nicest building (in fact it has no Central Heat and Air), you are surrounded by some of the best people in the field and it truly is a family there. They will extend their hands to you in friendship and treat you like a colleague instead of a bottom of the pyramid intern. I will never forget my experiences there and I will forever be grateful for the amazing people I met and look forward to regularly keeping in touch, if not joining their team in about 8 years!

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