Much thanks to South Carolina public defender and Gideon’s Promise member Shane Goranson, who wrote a nice reflection on his experience doing a social biography video after we gave a workshop on how to make them at Gideon’s Promise convening in Atlanta last year. Check it out!
Jim* had clearly been through a lot in his life. He suffered with a terrible substance abuse problem. But he had put in a lot of work on himself since he crashed into another car while being chased by a state trooper. I knew Jim had a lot of good in him. I knew he was helping a lot of people, but I didn’t know how to step up the presentation of mitigation in court in a way that would really do his work justice and have a real impact on his punishment. While I represented Jim I was lucky enough to go to a Gideon’s Promise training where Raj Jayadev made a presentation on client videos and their potential impact. I knew that would be the way to help Jim. Raj emphasized that it didn’t need to be flashy or expensive, it just needed to be sincere story.
Thinking through the story, the presentation, and the content we wanted for the video was invigorating and enlightening. I learned more about Jim, I gained respect and admiration for him. The people we interviewed, the most important people in Jim’s life, grew to know us and respect us. They made comments about how surprised they were about what we, a public defender and very generous videographer, were doing. Jim knew we left no stone unturned in trying to get him the best possible resolution and they worked hard to help us. In the end we put it all out there and did the best we could and that leaves a certain satisfaction even if the result was a little disappointing. I learned a lot while making the video and representing my client in a new, creative way let me see my job a little bit differently too. It put public defenders in a different light too, in this case a lawyer who could produce mitigation up to par with any private attorney. Highly recommended.
(Shane Goranson is a Public Defender in Greenwood South Carolina)