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Co-op Spotlight | New England Innocence Project and Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

Tatiana Marcus shares their co-op experiences at New England Innocence Project and Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project.

Tell us about your co-ops.

At New England Innocence Project (NEIP), I screened and reviewed applications while sharing my thoughts on cases with attorneys. I was treated as part of the legal team and they often sought my opinion. As the Intake Intern, I had to make sure the applicant was claiming actual innocence, that they explained why they are innocent of the specific crime and identify avenues for exoneration: prosecutorial/police misconduct, alibi, victim recantation, false confessions, DNA, eyewitness misidentification. My responsibilities evolved more: after a couple of months, I was asked to write recommendation memos on cases. I observed a retrial for a man who had served 32 years in prison, maintaining his innocence throughout. Finally, a judge overturned his conviction and granted him a new trial. I observed closing arguments and waited for jury deliberation with him in the courthouse. After two hours, the jury reached a not guilty verdict. As an intern, seeing someone be exonerated was something I will never forget.

At Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), I worked alongside law students and attorneys, answered calls and letters from prisoners, and conducted legal research. By sending prisoners information and referring them to legal services, I aided in promoting their rights. During my lunch break, I went to Harvard Law “lunch talks,” even one featuring an investigator who exposes animal cruelty around the world. I also had the opportunity to attend three parole hearings.

Why did you decide to pursue these co-ops?

Initially, I looked for co-ops at public defender offices. But by doing Harvard PLAP and NEIP at the same time (part-time at each), I got two amazing experiences at once. At PLAP, I was helping prisoners and at NEIP I was helping innocent prisoners—they both seemed to complement each other well. I always had an interest in wrongful conviction, but I did not have extensive knowledge of the field. And NEIP was the obvious place to learn more about it. I also wanted a co-op that involved helping people—which is why PLAP and NEIP have earned respect across the Northeast.

How have these co-ops impacted you personally?

Both these co-ops gave me a better idea of my likely career path: I know I want to be an attorney. At New England Innocence Project, I saw the urgent need to help the thousands of innocent people incarcerated in America. I hope to help get at least some of those people exonerated. And while co-oping at Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, I saw that even law students can change the lives of incarcerated people.

What was your biggest takeaway from these co-ops?

From my co-op at NEIP, I learned how to effectively communicate, how to work efficiently with co-workers, and how to use my Spanish skills to my advantage. I improved my researching and organization skills, which will help in law school. I wrote recommendation memos, which will prepare me for work at a firm. And I saw firsthand how our criminal justice system lacks justice.

The Harvard co-op taught me about the inequities of America’s prison system. I learned how to ask the right questions and how to organize the office space for efficiency. I spoke to Harvard Law students (and had one as my roommate), which gave me confidence for law school. One observation: I doubt I will pursue a career as a criminal defense attorney—I would not want to represent someone I know is guilty (although I believe that everyone is entitled to a defense).

Learn more about co-op in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

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