I have been thinking a lot this week about the necessity for human connection. Specifically, I have been thinking about it as it relates to the entire journey that I have been on since I left Oakland in early July: how interconnected we all are.
As it relates to working in the social justice sector long-term, working with a group of like-minded people is so paramount. I've often reflected on the all too real issue of secondary trauma when working with trauma-impacted communities. Perhaps my biggest reminder of this has been spending quite a bit of time at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma over the past month. I have worked in a number of trauma-impacted communities over the years, but the detention center is certainly another world in and of itself. I found myself spending an entire morning or afternoon sitting with a detainee, listening to them retell their stories of horror. I would meander my way back to the office feeling isolated, de-energized, and frankly pretty depressed.
I remember one of my colleagues at the office saw me after I had returned back one day and she asked me how my time was at the detention center. I leveled with her and essentially shared with her what I just shared with you: it was draining, sad, and I felt the impact of this client's story on me. She then told me: it is really important that you share whatever is on your mind with someone else here. She said that I couldn't keep it bottled up inside and that the office was a culture where you could share things that bothered you—secondary stories that weighed on you heavily as you re-entered the world from that dark place.
When she told me this, I immediately felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. I already knew that what she was saying was incredibly important, but it was something about a colleague/friend creating that explicit space and lending that ear pro-actively that made me feel extra comforted in that moment.
I look back at some of the legal work I have done, and without a doubt, organizations that had a culture of lateralism, support, and friendship—I felt even extra motivated to go back in there every day and give it my all. And it was a bonus if I got to work alongside people who were a joy to work with in some challenging professional situations—I was proud to be working in the trenches with them. To me, they truly embodied what it meant to be a public interest servant and attorney—and so many of them did it with grace and poise. What an honor. And much of the time, what fun.
Outside of my legal work, I have been so, so, so lucky to have been in some places so far in my journey where a number of my friends have relocated and moved to. Greater Seattle is certainly no exception. I have been able to reconnect with friends who moved here after we spent time together in high school in suburban Boston; taught together in the trenches in South Central Los Angeles; went to college together at UT Austin and spent a magical semester in Washington DC; or our paths crossed through other fantastic mutual friends—it has given my heart such a boost. And the boost is most welcome after some tiring days when I come home and sometimes wake up the next morning with a very brief: "Where am I again?" because I have been moving around so much. My friends give me not only that glimpse into our shared past, but perhaps more importantly—unconditional support and a warm embrace in the present.
I'll wrap up this post with a reflection on an experience yesterday—I want to share it with you all because I think it falls under this notion of our interconnectedness and how I am able to help others during this journey because you have so directly helped me. Thanks again from the bottom of my heart for all your support and for following me on my journey—I cannot wait to catch up with more of you along the way. You keep my heart full.
This morning, I visited a client in the Tacoma detention center as I am helping her write a declaration for her case. She is a woman around my age—someone I could see myself being friends with. As I usually do here, I walked through three high security doors where I had to get buzzed in each time—each door, descending further into isolation from mainstream society. Only family members and attorneys typically are allowed into where we were meeting.
When I first walked in, she had asked me if it was cold outside because I was wearing my North Face jacket. My heart sunk at the thought of her not knowing what type of day it was, or if there was a cool breeze in the air. There are no windows at the detention center.
As we continued talking, she said that she considers herself an American (after being present in this country as a refugee since she was a month old). Then, she looked at me and said that she saw many others in the detention center who didn't have a lawyer. Then, she told me with a smile: "I'm so glad you're helping me."
And in that moment, I felt such a sense of urgency and alignment—I felt it bubbling up in my chest. I am almost certain that this will not be my last detention center experience. I feel called to go back.
And as I am reflecting on this exchange earlier this morning, I am so glad that you are helping me. Many of you are supporting my work financially; hosting me in different parts of the country; reaching out with words of encouragement or support; connecting me with like-minded advocates in communities where I am working. Thank you so much—for helping me so we can help our friends. You inspire me.