Written by Transy alum Pyra Murad.
I came to Transylvania University at 17 years old with big dreams of doing bioethics or health policy and no clue what a public defender was. Ten years later, I have found myself fighting for people accused of crimes who would not have lawyers if it was not for my colleagues and me.
Now that I am teetering on the edge of being a grown-up, I know a lot of other grown-ups. (I know it may be difficult to fathom, but one day all of the people on “the hall” are going to be real life humans with real jobs and you will not have access to waffles from The Caf every Sunday; it is incredibly destabilizing.) I do not know a lot of people who love what they do every single day as much as I do and the people I work with do. In my not-so-humble opinion, being a public defender is the best job ever, second perhaps only to literally being Beyoncé.
Forget what is written down about the presumption of innocence and fairness and justice. Here’s what’s up: the Government spends more money trying to prosecute and convict people than it does supporting the defenses to which they are entitled. Moreover, poor people and people of color are arrested and prosecuted at disproportionately high rates. Make no mistake – our criminal courts project a façade that is not matched by what happens in those courtrooms every day.
When people are accused of crimes, they walk into court cloaked in a presumption of guilt. They are scared and often alone. Many are shackled in chains. They have one advocate – their attorney. As public defenders, we stand between the accused individual and all of the resources of the Government. And it is a privilege to do this work every day.
I hope you will take the time on April 13 at 3:30pm to join me and my great friend, fellow Transylvanian, and fellow public defender, Jessica Beard. We are eager to share our stories and whatever advice we can make up between now and then with you.
I will leave you with one of my favorite recent reflections on being a public defender, in hopes that it inspires to come and find out more about this great profession.
“…let us remember that we are the ones who preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Remember that winning doesn’t make you great. Standing for something does. Remember that we don’t quit and we can’t be bought…When injustice begins to roll down we are the ones who try to stop the flood, to turn back the tide. We don’t do it because we think it can be done, we do it because it is the right thing to do. We don’t do it because we will win; we do it because there are more important things than winning. We don’t do it because it will make us rich; we do it because we know others are poor.” – Professor John Gross, University of Alabama School of Law