Santa Clara County Public Defender Jessica Smith, leaving court with Rusty’s mom after freeing him from a life sentence. Together, they walked straight to the jail to see when he was getting out later that day.
Around four years ago, a couple of us from De-Bug walked into the public defender’s office around 10pm to turn in one of the first social bio videos we ever made. It was a life case. Court was the next day, and we had asked the public defender, Jessica, when was the latest we could turn it in to her that evening. She said she would be working late, likely throughout the night, so not to worry. Despite the universe seeming determination to send her client Rusty to prison for life — Jessica was going to fight with everything she had, with every second she could.
We had visited Rusty in jail before — he was as charismatic and likable as the various people who came to our participatory defense meetings said he would be. That phrase, “you just have to meet him” comes up often at our meetings with families, but the truth is, it is always been a useful instruction for us to follow. We also go to know Rusty by interviewing the people who loved him. Rusty grew up in rural Idaho, which also led to some challenges on how to capture important family voices for his video, since they lived thousands of miles away. Some of the family, including his mother, actually recorded their interview from her ranch in Idaho, responding to question we gave them through phone and email. Continue reading
Submission by Cecilia Chavez
The author, Cecilia, facilitating a skype training on how to build social biography packets.
I met Jose (name changed) five months ago. He came into De-Bug with his mom who had worked with us previously in another one of her son’s case. Jose, who was 19 and undocumented, was facing serious charges — up to 15 years of incarceration for an alleged incident that was not a reflection of who he was as a young man. Days previous to the alleged incident he had gone through some traumatic experiences with his stepfather and on top of that was mourning the death of his biological father in Mexico. When the family came to our participatory defense meeting, they were prepared and brought supporting information to help counteract the picture that had been painted of Jose by the police reports. Shortly after, we sat down with his attorney and started collecting more social biographical information such as character references, proof of enrollment in programs that were helping him deal with is trauma, and other material that could support his case. With all this, I helped the family build a social biography packet that was used by his public defender when they negotiated with the prosecutor. Continue reading