RACHEL E. ENDICK
Ben had just turned eleven when he was found in a state park holding a bag of marijuana. It was 9:30 on a Wednesday night in May. An officer on a routine patrol of the grounds smelled the distinctive odour of the burning substance, and it led him directly to Ben, who was under a tree with the bag in one hand and a stick in the other. He was all alone.
I crossed paths with Ben during the summer that I was an intern at the OPD (Office of the Public Defender) of New Jersey. Though I spent the majority of my time working with adult criminal defendants – many of them inside the country jail – I could not resist taking on Ben’s juvenile case the day he was due in court. His mother had refused repeated attempts by various OPD investigators to have Ben interviewed, leaving us with nothing but the police report. My curiosity was piqued by the odd fact pattern and his mother’s refusal to cooperate, the latter of which meant that Steve, the attorney dedicated to juvenile matters, would only have time for a brief chat with Ben before presenting his case. As we drove to the courthouse, I had a clear mental image of Ben, the precocious rebel. Instead, Steve and I found a terrified child who refused to make eye contact. His mother, grandparents, and stepfather surrounded him. Every question that Steve and I asked was swiftly met with a response by Ben’s stepfather, who, prior to answering, would squeeze Ben on the shoulder. Something was clearly amiss.
Steve told Ben’s family that we needed a few minutes alone with Ben, and Ben’s stepfather begrudgingly exited with the rest of his entourage. Ben sat with his hands in his lap and refused to speak until Steve explained the concept of attorney-client privilege in such a way that a child could grasp it. With that the floodgates opened. We learned that Ben had been given the marijuana to hold by a group of teenagers who instantly fled the park, likely because they spotted the officer. More importantly, however, we learned that Ben ran to the park that night to escape the routine abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather.
Steve and I flanked Ben as we walked into the courtroom. Immediately, Steve asked for a moment in chambers with the prosecutor, leaving me alone in the courtroom with Ben and his family. Ben’s stepfather demanded the details of our conversation. Ben looked up at me, clearly terrified, and his expression said one thing – help me. Called upon to improvise, I began tapping my figurative heels in double-time.
I quickly explained that Ben had done a phenomenal job of relaying how he had become a scapegoat on the night in question and that Steve was seeing whether the charges could be dropped. It seemed plausible, but I could not take the chance that Ben would feel pressured to relay any other portion of our conversation. Justifying the move as procedural, I steered Ben to the defense counsel table and placed him in the chair farthest from his family. The guard sauntered over from his post at the bench to ask if there was a problem. I furtively shot my eyes toward Ben’s stepfather. The guard silently nodded, left the courtroom, and soon re-appeared with two other guards. One took the post by the bench, one stood in front of Ben’s stepfather, and my new friend positioned himself next to my chair, providing yet another barrier between Ben and his abuser. The guards and I looked at each other in silence, and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ben’s stepfather grow restless. I had no idea how much longer Steve would be. Finally, desperate to mask the gravity of the situation, I blurted out, “So how about those Yankees?” The guards took turns chiming in, and I, frankly with little of value to contribute, threw in generic phrases of agreement every so often. At that moment the guards and I rivaled the company of Riverdance.
After what seemed like hours Steve, the prosecutor, and the judge emerged. The charges against Ben were dropped, and the judge issued a protective order against Ben’s stepfather, who was escorted out of the courthouse. Heartbreakingly, Ben’s mother chose to leave with her husband, instead of remaining with her son. Nevertheless, Ben left with his grandparents who vowed to keep him out of harm’s way, and Steve assured Ben that he had done well.
I left the courthouse that day with an immense feeling of gratitude that Steve and I had managed to keep Ben safe. Still, I was frustrated that the most I could do for Ben was rely on my limited knowledge of the law and my ability to think on my feet. Though my courtroom tap dance managed to be successful, I never again wanted to be in a position in which the well-being of any person relied upon an action with such little foundation in the substance of the law. The law is an inimitable tool for protecting the most vulnerable members of society, and I look forward to using it as such.
This essay finds its strength in its counter-intuitive focus on someone other than Rachel Endick. Readers become tied up in the drama and pathos of Ben’s story, trusting her to guide them through the rescue of this young man. As such, she has shifted focus from their own desires and needs, and instead focused their attention on a case that illustrates Endick’s prowess and ability to think on her feet. This allows her to reveal her strengths without sounding presumptuous or arrogant.
As important as what Endick says is how she says it. The essay winds through its anecdote with many of the techniques a short story or novel might employ. It has a clear, compelling plot. It is suspenseful. Most of all, it draws the readers into her mind and emotions and thought process. The personal statement isn’t hermetically sealed form of writing. It can and should employ a variety of techniques and style. She clearly understands that.
Finally, it’s important to notice that Endick doesn’t mention a specific law school, or even her desire to attend law school, until the final paragraph. This is, of course, not a hard-and-fast rule to follow, but in this essay it plays well, allowing the story to speak for itself. Endick has cast herself as a character in a large story about the justice system, and as such has made an implicit promise that law and education are central to her point, even though she doesn’t explicitly mention them. Her final decision to segue into law school with the admittance of her own lack of experience is a bold one, but, again, in this particular essay it works well because she does so in the context of real life experience, thereby promising that, while she is green, she is inspired to learn.