In this series, the Summer 2016 interns reflect upon their experience working with CIC.
I began work with the Chicago Innocence Center in February of 2016, and have been profoundly impacted through the Investigation I have been doing, as well as through the deeply intimate situations I am working within. In many ways the Chicago Innocence Center has allowed me immense opportunity to grow and develop both in my thought and action, which further allows me to work within and outside of traditional avenues to impact the criminal-legal system.
My initial work with CIC began to increase my general awareness of the work I would be doing, regarding the nature of wrongful convictions, and police & prosecutor misconduct, allowing me to begin to foster personal relationships with the individuals I would be working with, including students, journalists, and exonerees. As these relationships begin to develop through building a case, I found myself deeply invested in the individual case we were working, as well as in the well-being of the team and our ability to strategize and think on our feet to be as effective as possible in our field work. This led to an immense development regarding my interpersonal skills, and has allowed me a sense for empathy that I had never obtained outside of the work we were doing. To be able to connect with witnesses and work with them to share their stories, it was necessary that I better learned how to navigate a conversation, and to exist as a comforting and open presence. Working through different tactics and strategies also aided me in developing a more comprehensive analysis when analyzing a new situation. I found the discussions we had both in seminar and in the field fostered my problem-solving ability, in addition to increasing my capability to see from a variety of new perspectives.
Reflecting this personal growth and ability to see new perspectives was most clear in my shifting ideas regarding the criminal justice system. Gaining a better understanding of how innocent individuals are caught up in the criminal justice system contributed to my broader indictment of the it, and has only further illuminated to me that the criminal system’s broad nets which catch up working class, disproportionally black and brown folks is indiscriminate towards whether or not an individual or society will benefit from their incarceration. When the sole focus of the criminal system is to appear as though its police and prosecutors are successful, it matters little whether someone is truly guilty.
Sam Peiffer is a rising junior at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. He studies Sociology with a concentration in Law, Crime, and Criminology Studies. To learn more about the CIC interns, click here.