As a person who, like many other members of the Loevy + Loevy team, represents many incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, the holidays and the end of the year come with an even more than normal amount of reflection. For those of us who celebrate a holiday at the end of the year, whether it be Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Christmas, New Year’s, or for anyone who takes time at the end of the year just to be with people they care about, it can be a time of gratitude for the people in our lives and for the things we’ve been able to experience during the year. For my clients who are, or were, wrongfully convicted, it is often a time that serves as a reminder of everything that their wrongful convictions have taken, and continue to take, from their lives. The same is true for their families, who serve those prison sentences alongside their incarcerated loved one. All these impacted individuals and families have talked more eloquently than I ever could about their experiences with incarceration during the holidays – some great articles about those experiences include this piece from David Ben Israelson about spending Hannukah in prison, an article by Jenni Jimenez about supporting her incarcerated husband over Christmas, and this piece with beautiful photographs describing women getting to see their children for the holidays.
My primary job as an attorney of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people is to bring them whatever justice is possible in our legal system. My secondary task is to advocate as hard as I can to change all the aspects of that system that prevent people from receiving complete justice. This is how we spend our days at Loevy + Loevy and the associated non-profit at which I work, the Exoneration Project. But even in those roles, and even in organizations that bring a great deal of justice to clients, for me, finding the words I need to say during the holidays is beyond difficult. It’s hard even feeling some small amount of the weight of injustice on my clients and their families, to see the irreparable loss of missing yet another holiday with loved ones, and to recognize the irony that while many Americans enjoy the holidays as a time of rest and renewal, the legal system can grind to a halt at the end of the year for clients, leaving them waiting even longer. All these factors leave me at a loss for how to bring meaning to the end of the year. Even in writing this essay, I deeply feel the fact that my clients and impacted people are in a much better position than me to speak about what the holidays mean for them. And in the face of systems of oppression that continue to harm my clients every day, finding any kind of solace in the holidays feels hard.
That’s why it feels particularly appropriate to leave you all with one of my client’s words to me on this topic. I was able to visit an incarcerated client last week. We’re fighting hard for him, but he hasn’t yet received all the justice he deserves. This client mentioned during our visit that the holidays were coming up, and he chatted with me about my holiday plans, a reflection of his generosity and expansive humanity in the face of everything he’s experiencing. He asked me what holiday I celebrated, wished me a corresponding Merry Christmas, and then gave me what I think will be my holiday greeting from now on: “I hope the holidays bring you a revolutionary spirit.”
I didn’t ask my client where he got this holiday greeting from, but I love it. And, with his permission, I’m passing it on to whoever might take the time to read this post. I hope the holidays bring you a revolutionary spirit. I hope time with the people you care about helps refresh you, and fills you with new resolve to continue advocating for justice and an equitable peace and the radical change our legal system needs. I hope whatever kind of holiday celebration feels right for you renews you and gives you hope that things can be better, and inspires you to help make things better for other people. Now more than ever, folks searching for justice in our country need that from every one of us.