Law in Contemporary Society

Swinging Back

-- By BeneelBabaei - 06 Jun 2017

Hanging On

It only took her a few weeks to say I had changed. After a decade, she knew me better than anyone. I was, quite literally, being indoctrinated daily; and yet, I kept a straight face as I indignantly proclaimed that I was not changing. I tried to laugh off the big differences and the small that she would point out. I will never forget the day she scoffed at my decision to skip watching the big game in order to study, as I pleaded with her to not regard it as dispositive of my having changed as a person – I could not reel the words in by the time I realized that I had never and would have never used the word “dispositive” in every day conversation just a month prior. She pursed her lips as I watched her decide not to call me out on this one, and we exchanged a knowing look that this would not last. I had lost her, but was more afraid of losing myself.

Existential Crisis

“That’s a foul!” “Call it then!” “Foul, check up you little bitch.” I smirk as I hand the ball back and press tighter, toeing the line. I swipe the ball from him as he turns, presses his nose against mine, and screams, “that’s a fuckin foul!” saliva spewing across my brow.

I lightly press him off me. He takes exception, and with little warning punches me in my face. This point in the exchange was not entirely new for me, but my reaction was: I slowly walked to the other side of the court and opted to defend another player as my temple rang with pain. I went through the motions of the rest of the game, sauntered to my apartment to shower, and wondered aloud, “what have I become?”

I could not help but think of her words. Sure, I now knew the elements of an assault, I knew about the character and fitness evaluation, but somehow this seemed bigger. Somewhere between the late night library sessions, cocktail receptions, and hungover cold calls, I felt as though I had lost the bite to my bark altogether, convinced that doing so was both a prerequisite and a symptom of my chosen career path.


When I landed at JFK for the uptown and downtown admitted student festivities a year ago, the last thing I cared about were the speakers. In fact, as I settled into my seat to hear Bryan Stevenson speak, I was busy typing up a scholarship negotiation letter to take to the financial aid office. A few minutes later, my phone was off, my ears were opened, and then my eyes were too.

He described our nation’s ugly past and present mass incarceration particularly of African American people, and I was irreversibly moved. For years, when I had told people that my primary interest was criminal law, when they inevitably quipped about having to defend the bad guy, I often laughed and said that I was ambivalent as to prosecution or defense. I never would again.

In late spring, I applied for the Challenging the Consequences of Mass Incarceration Clinic the moment the application went out. When I boarded the plane to California after final exams, I was not prepared for what finally getting to reading Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, would do to bolster my convictions.

In it, Stevenson recounts a time when he was harassed by a SWAT team outside of his home in Atlanta. As they illegally searched his car and found nothing more than now-disheveled pleadings from his work at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, he remained calm and waited for them to leave, collecting his papers off the floor. I quickly realized that Bryan Stevenson, a man who had devoted his life to swinging back, would know not to do so in the face of an overzealous cop or some punk on a basketball court. I learned that even the most passionate fighters still know to pick their battles, and I felt at ease thinking back to that day on the court. Maybe some of the ways I was changing in law school were more valuable than they were not.

What Now?

With the end of the distraction that is the first year of law school, my passion for both this cause and that of refugees has been revitalized and re-prioritized. I remember listening through J. Cole's "4 Your Eyez Only" album when it came out during first semester exams, and hearing the pain with which he raps about the plight of African Americans in America today. I felt ashamed to have somewhat-unwittingly put this kind of actual work on the back-burner. But no longer.

I will be partaking in the clinic in the fall and taking Criminal Procedure as soon as possible to better prepare myself for this line of work. More than this, though, one of the most valuable things I was taught in this class this year was to not go into a fight I have no personal stake in with blind passion and an empty toolkit. To this end, I hope, in addition to learning as much as I can in the clinic itself and through my own research, to take interdisciplinary classes at the university which concern the history of our incarceration system and its inextricable relationship to racial and socioeconomic status.

Donald Trump is a temporary adversary at best; a carceral state that spans presidents blue, red, and orange is less so. I will be the type of law student and lawyer who fights it with both physical and emotional sobriety. I will be the type of lawyer who knows when I must punch back, and more importantly, when I mustn’t. And if that is not the lawyer I was on the path to becoming when I applied to law school, I welcome the growth, dispositive as it might be of having changed as a person.


Webs Webs

r3 - 07 Jun 2017 - 20:07:44 - BeneelBabaei
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM