I wake up (reluctantly), smash down some brekkie and pick out what closed in shoes I want to wear for the day. I always wear closed in shoes to work because you never know when you might need to head to a correctional centre on short notice! I pat my cat goodbye and lock my door. I walk out my front gate and realise my glasses are still on my bedside table so I turn around, unlock the door, grab my glasses and pat my cat once more.
As a graduate in the Prisoners Legal Service, I conduct advice clinics and community legal education (CLE) at various correctional centres in New South Wales. On the mornings I work at the correctional centres, I usually ride my motorbike to help me battle through Sydney traffic! I get to the gaol and make sure I don’t take my phone, laptop or Fitbit watch into the centre. I send a text to my supervisor to let her know I am about to enter the gaol. I put my file note pads in a see-through carry bag and count my pens in case the correctional officers quiz me. Once I am in the centre, correctional officers scan my fingerprints, retinas and check my ID as well as x-raying my belongings and person. I convince them to mind my motorbike helmet behind the counter because it’s too big for the locker – some days this is easier than others.
Inside the correctional centre I am given a duress alarm that I attach to my belt if I am doing CLE as classes take part past the visitor or legal visits area. During CLEs the inmates and I tend to do something arty such as painting or drawing while we talk about civil law issues like housing, Centrelink issues or police torts. We also do role plays about ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’ situations surrounding the civil issue we have been chatting about, for example, ‘what to do when Centrelink cuts off your payment unexpectedly’. Normally the inmate plays the role of the Centrelink officer and I play the role of the client in the ‘what not do’ situation which usually ends in a lot of laughter.
I head back to the office and scroll through the mountains of emails I’ve gotten and cross my fingers and toes that none of my clients have had any urgent issues pop up. I have a quick debrief with my supervisor about my morning at the centre. I make myself a cup of tea and do as much follow up from the morning as I can before lunch.
Lunch time! I normally bring my lunch from home so I can get the most out of my lunch hour to go to the gym or play futsal on the Legal Aid team. It’s a great way to manage your wellbeing by getting away from your desk at lunch. Wellbeing is a huge priority for Legal Aid NSW and it’s a great workplace culture to have.
Back from lunch still feeling smug from a victorious win at futsal but it’s time to focus and get stuck into some advice sessions with inmates from regional gaols via audiovisual link. Practicing civil law you deal with a wide range of everyday legal issues and a range of clients. Working with prisoners is an extremely rewarding group to deal with. Our clients are exceptionally vulnerable and usually civil, crime and family matters affect our clients all at once so it is important to adopt a holistic approach to advice session. I make sure I keep the conversation informal and in plain English as most of my clients have low literacy and/or mental health challenges they are dealing with as well as trying to understand foreign legal concept so understandably it can be overwhelming.
The need to vent about the social injustices of the legal system arises so the team takes a walk down to the local Cakery for justice and sweets! I select a slice of vegan chocolate torte and enjoy culinary heaven for the next five minutes (okay maybe five seconds) and catch up with my wonderful colleagues.
Heading towards the end of the day I like to get stuck into my bigger tasks so this time is usually spent meeting with colleagues to discuss complex matters, drafting appeals or court documents or doing legal research. Sometimes I also get to write letters of support for my client’s criminal matters. It’s really nice to let the court know the challenges the client has faced and just how far they have come. My client’s criminal offending can stem from civil law issues and this can be hard for courts to consider or understand without the support of a civil lawyer.
I start to wind down and get my tasks in order for tomorrow. I go over my list of clients that I will be seeing the next day and make sure I am prepared. I email my legal support officer to book in some follow up appointments with my clients and throw in a hilarious meme for good measure.
I quiz my colleagues on their evening plans and normally have a yarn about what we are having for dinner. We are a small team and all sit in open plan so we have no choice but to employ an “open door policy” and talk to each other across the office. Despite chatting all day and having each other’s social schedule tattooed on our brains we still aren’t sick of each other… yet.
I arrange my desk into an organised chaos ready to hit the ground running in the morning and check my emails one last time. I love to have no unread emails at the end of the day as it helps me feel accomplished and makes the morning a lot less brutal for this night owl.
Time for bed (read: scrolling through Instagram feed for 30 minutes before actually trying to sleep) after doing all my ‘domestic duties’. I settle in for another night sleeping on a paddle pop stick after giving in to a very spoilt and persistent cat.