In Her Own Words: HOPE Fellow’s Summer at ACLU Sparks Interest in Prisoners’ Rights and Ongoing Commitment to Public Service

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Janyl RellingJanyl Relling graduated from South University with a Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies. At Miami Law, she is the Editor-in-Chief of the Race & Social Justice Law Review, Treasurer of the ACLU-UM Chapter, a member of the Society of Bar & Gavel, and member of the Black Law Students Association. Relling is dedicated to volunteerism and serves the community through her efforts with Habitat for Humanity, Christ Fellowship Church, Books and Buddies, and Chapman Partnership. She is deeply passionate about civil rights issues affecting minorities and those of low socio-economic status.

I worked as a HOPE Fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in Miami dedicating my summer to working with the legal staff on impact litigation. The most meaningful work I did were the assignments I completed related to prison conditions.

Prior to starting at the ACLU-FL, I had an interest in the incarceration epidemic and social justice issues related to the privatized prison system. Once I began to conduct research on various prison litigation cases and learned about a variety of issues related to prisoners' rights – such as the unconstitutional practices and policies of institutions throughout the country – I felt an undeniable sense of direction.

My experiences at the ACLU-FL inspired me to bring what I learned about the prison system back to campus in an effort to educate and engage fellow students here at Miami Law. As Editor-in-Chief of the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, I am working with the law review’s executive board members, editorial staff, and other student organizations to share information about prison issues in different mediums.

In conjunction with the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review will be hosting a panel discussion in the spring titled “Mass Incarceration: Prison Conditions and the Collateral Damage to Communities of Color,” where we will be joined by distinguished professors, practitioners, and activists to highlight systemic issues that impact prisoners' rights and prison conditions.

Moreover, the scholarship published in Volume VI of the Review will have a central theme of mass incarceration. I will also be working with interested students to create a flow chart for prisoners within a specific correctional institution to utilize when trying to file grievances.

My summer at the ACLU-FL has enhanced my law school experience tremendously. From a practical skills perspective, I substantially improved my researching and writing abilities. Moreover, I learned to think quickly and creatively to find answers to difficult questions in high-pressure situations.

After either being given a time-sensitive assignment or reviewing client intake forms, I spent much of my time researching a variety of oftentimes novel issues of substantive constitutional law, as well as procedural issues related to citizens’ constitutional rights. In addition, I drafted memoranda of law, participated in a witness interview, attended a hearing in federal court, and conducted credibility assessments of potential plaintiffs.

While I did not have much face-to-face interaction with the public, reading people’s intake forms allowed me to uniquely connect with those seeking help and more deeply appreciate the privileged position I am in as a law student and future attorney. After the completion of my fellowship, I knew there was no way I could have a fulfilling career without serving those who are not fortunate enough to understand the contours of the law or be able to afford the services of someone who does.

My summer at the ACLU-FL gave me the opportunity to identify my purpose—a trajectory-changing discovery that I may not have been fortunate enough to uncover as a law student without the HOPE Fellows Program. My goal is to work as a civil rights attorney, specifically dealing with matters related to prison issues, government misconduct, or mass incarceration generally.