By: Liz Archer, JD ’20
On April 22, students in the Judicial Process in the Trial Courts Clinic visited MCI Concord, a medium security prison for men. While in the clinic, some students observed sentencing hearings where individuals where sent to serve time at MCI Concord. Hon. Judge John C. Crastley (Ret.), the Lecturer on Law for the Clinic, organized a trip to the facility to help students understand the consequence of those sentences. On our tour of the facilities, we visited the segregation unit, a general population unit, and the prison’s religious spaces. In the final part of our tour, we were introduced to the NEADS Program through which inmates train service dogs. The participating inmates gave a presentation demonstrating the particular skills that they are developing with their dogs. For example, one inmate is training his dog to identify and respond to different sounds in order to serve a deaf client. This was the most interesting part of our visit to MCI Concord because of the powerful impact that the NEADS Program seems to have on participating inmates and the clients that they serve. Students also had the opportunity to meet and speak with the inmates following their presentation. During those subsequent conversations, the inmates shared some of their experiences and advice about how students could best serve their future clients.
I left our visit of MCI Concord feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I believe lawyers should have an informed understanding of the implications of their work, including the experience of incarceration. Visiting a prison is one way to get a better sense of what that experience is like and speaking with inmates or formerly incarcerated individuals is another, perhaps better, way to develop that understanding. On the other hand, I worry about the invasiveness of prison tours. There were moments where being on the outside looking in felt uncomfortable, and perhaps the inmates felt the same way. Ultimately, I believe our visit was a valuable experience, particularly because students had the opportunity to engage with the inmates about their experiences. But I also think that, when visiting these institutions, visitors should be aware of the privilege they carry and the weight of the activity they are engaging in.