Criminal justice major Allison Gager describes her internship at the Marquette County Juvenile Court
Courtesy of: Horizons
I have been interested in the law as long as I can remember. My father is a former police chief who now works as the deputy director of NMU Public Safety, so I suppose I got my interest in law from him. I have also spent the past 3 1/2 years working for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Marquette as a student legal assistant, which has further enhanced my interests. I hope to continue working at the U.S. Attorney's Office as a full-time legal assistant, and then continue in some form of federal government work, but as a victim/witness specialist, legal assistant or federal probation officer.
I had considered doing an internship and when I received an email from Criminal Justice Department Head Dr. (Dale) Kapla, saying some were still available for the fall 2009 semester in the area of probation, I took it as a sign and went for it.
My supervisor was Juvenile Probation Officer Connie Hemmila, and I spent most of my time working directly with her, first shadowing her, and then actually taking on some real responsibilities.
In the beginning I sat in on meetings with clients and court hearings, just absorbing knowledge, but by the end of my semester there I was actually conducting office meetings myself, going to schools to visit clients, handling drug tests and writing reports.
It was a truly amazing learning experience, mostly because the entire staff was so willing to teach me and to let me try whatever I wanted on my own. Obviously because of the confidential nature of the work, I cannot get into any details about specific experiences I had with clients there, but all in all, I think the most surprising thing I learned was how quickly, even in an "authority" position like a probation officer, you can become attached to these kids.The nature of work in juvenile court is that you are supposedly working with the "troubled kids" or the "bad kids," but I learned so quickly that you cannot put labels on them, because despite the fact that they may do some questionable things, when it comes down to it they are just kids. And most of them are incredibly likable and friendly, and were simply born into bad situations, or have had life difficulties that I could not even begin to imagine going through. I could go into work at juvenile court after having what I would consider a completely horrible day, and by the end of my time there, my problems always seemed incredibly trivial in comparison to what some of these kids experience.
At times, it was definitely hard to maintain composure during some sensitive meetings and proceedings, especially since as much as you may try to keep a professional distance from these kids, you end up feeling incredibly attached to them - at least I did. I think that the key that I found in these situations, especially when I had no idea what to say or do, was just to listen, take it in and just be a voice of calm. I had to realize early on that I am one person and there is only so much that I can do. I can't save the world on my own. So I listened, absorbed and tried to say something helpful if I could, but at the same time try not to say too much. It's a difficult skill to master, and I'm sure if you asked some of the veteran probation officers over there, they'd say that even after years on the job, there are certain situations that still get to them as well.
After ending my internship at Juvenile Court, I was offered a paid position as an in-home detention worker where I work one-on-one with a youth on probation. I have also done some mentoring work for the court.
I don't know if any class can fully prepare you for a real-world situation like this, but I think that's the beauty of the internship because it gives you experiences that a class cannot.