Student Spotlight: Lauren May ’24

Tell us about your experience in the Racial Justice Clinic.

Lauren May ’24
Lauren May ’24

Through the clinic, I've gotten to represent a man seeking parole who had been incarcerated for 30 years, since the age of 18. Over the last several months of preparing him for his parole hearing, we've been able to help him come to terms with the role that childhood trauma may have played on his mental state at the time of the crime, gotten to know his family, who still lives in his neighborhood in the Bronx, and heard about his hopes to reconnect with his son and give back to his community. I believe that race and financial status had unfairly factored into his case, making our support of his release feel particularly meaningful to me. After his hearing, incredibly, he was granted parole! Hearing the news felt like a real-life story to demonstrate the heart of this clinic– combatting the infrastructures that perpetuate racial injustice, particularly in the criminal legal system. Yet, even with the amazing victory, we’re grappling with the fact that our client is still under the control of carceral systems that will shape the rest of his life, a reality that continues to harm people of color even long after incarceration.

What first inspired you to pursue a career in law?

I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid, reading the Nancy Drew books and whodunits and knowing I both wanted to solve problems and help people. My understanding of the law became fuller throughout high school and college, as I began to understand the injustices within the criminal legal system: what I saw as innocent people convicted to serve long sentences due to prosecutorial misconduct or jury bias, or defendants being coerced to plead guilty due to job or family obligations. It was my desire to play a small part in remedying these issues and making the system better that brought me to law school.

You serve as director of the Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) Teaching Project, which involves teaching people incarcerated in New York state prisons legal research skills to prepare them to be law clerks and jailhouse lawyers. What is your biggest takeaway from this leadership experience?

Since the pandemic, it has not been easy to lead the Prison Teaching Project. I have learned the value of persistence, particularly when it comes to massive bureaucratic agencies like the Department of Corrections, and it has given me a greater appreciation for those inside who deal with these systems every day. It is worthwhile to continue to follow up; we are actually moving forward with teaching our course at Rikers Island for the first time since spring 2020! I've also found that it is impossible to truly lead well alone; I would not have been successful without the support of previous leaders and the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights' institutional knowledge about legal empowerment methods to actively challenge inequities nationally and globally. It takes a village to create change, and I've definitely found that to be true.

What is one thing that instantly makes your day better?

Getting to pet a dog!

Posted on March 21, 2023