When I met Derrick, he believed that he deserved to die. He had confessed to killing two of his closest friends. He was full of remorse and shame, and did not see a future for himself. As the mitigation specialist working with Derrick, not only did I need to help court decision-makers see the value of Derrick’s life, I needed to help him believe in his own value.
I spent countless hours with Derrick, learning about his life, his struggles, and those he cared about and who cared about him. Ultimately, because of the trusting relationship we developed, he accepted a life-saving plea. In doing so, he also spared the victims’ families the trauma of a trial and of many years of litigation in the event that he was sentenced to death.
Although Derrick’s case ended, we continue to write each other. His letters now include updates about his grandchildren—a possibility he couldn’t see for himself when we first met. He often thanks me for helping him take that plea and, in his words, “saving his life.”
Our work is not just about collecting records and interviewing people. It is about helping people see the humanity in each other and in themselves. Every day, our team fights to make sure our clients' lives are valued. That is what we want to bring to the defense practice because that's what's needed if we are to make the criminal justice system less retributive.
Elizabeth Vartkessian, Ph.D.
Advancing Real Change, Inc.