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Emily Michel

Emily has been interested in the law since a very young age. Rather than an interest in the rules themselves, Emily’s curiosity focuses on why rules exist, where they come from, and if they accomplish their goals. While taking a leave from college on the East Coast, Emily’s circumstances led her to examine what it means to have autonomy when life is governed by different demands. She became acutely aware of the dissonance between our stated cultural values and those demonstrated by our behaviors and systems, and was unsettled by the prevalence of narratives that can keep these things invisible. Over time, her awareness of this disparity has been reinforced by her own life and the experiences of her peers. Reframing her perspective enabled Emily to see that disparate suffering across populations is more likely a consequence of a misallocation of resources than a lack of them. She is particularly interested in how social and political systems impact an individual’s ability to self-actualize, and the interventions that enable people to maximize their potential.

Emily’s work with YJF is focused on direct personal impact and facilitating a cultural shift. She pursues systemic change while working on a variety of projects with Deborah LaBelle and Anlyn Addis, including juvenile justice impact litigation, the ACLU’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative, and the Flint Water Class Action. She is currently an undergraduate studying philosophy and plans to pursue a law degree.

Returning from prison, or leaving any traumatic environment, is completely disorienting. This type of experience leaves no part of one’s life untouched, and it is simply not something addressed by the systems we currently have in place. Not only must someone learn a new way of life in an unfamiliar place, but often people are unlearning who their prior circumstances demanded they become. YJF is about community because the essential element is a human one. It is the shift from punitive othering to welcoming patience. It is repeating “I see you, I’m listening, you belong,” with words and actions, until someone can’t help but believe it, and it is something that must come from all sides.

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