Laura Kleinman '99 "With the goal of using the tools I had been given at Orchard, I attended Harvard"
“Why do you care how we live in here?” Markus looked up at me through the bars of his jail cell. A ring of deep purple darkened his puffy eyelid, and a thin crust of dried blood stained his lower lip. Markus, 21 years old, had spent his adult life locked up in the Cook County Jail, awaiting trial. Earlier that day, he had been jumped and beaten by another detainee while guards watched from behind a protective glass enclosure.
Markus is my client. He’s part of a class action lawsuit that a small group of us is litigating on behalf of pre-trial detainees living in the super-maximum security divisions of the jail. At the jail, brutality is rampant; stabbings, beatings, and deaths occur almost daily – perpetuated against detainees by other detainees and guards alike. We have asked a federal judge to put an end to the violence.
Markus’s question puzzled me. I thought for a minute and responded with a question of my own: “Why would I not care?” But my response didn’t satisfy him. It never did. No matter how many times I visited, Markus never understood why an attorney at a big law firm in downtown Chicago would spend her Saturdays driving out to the West Side to meet with inmates living in the jail.
But to me, caring felt only natural. And I attribute that feeling to Orchard. Through its teachers, administrators, coaches, and staff, Orchard taught my classmates and me at very early ages the importance of respecting and valuing one another. Orchard taught us to listen to all the voices in the room, not just the loudest ones. It taught us to work together to cultivate a strong community that supports each one of its members. These lessons were so deeply ingrained in me during the decade I spent at Orchard that I hardly remember learning them in any formal sense, but I know we all absorbed them.
By the time I graduated from eighth grade, Orchard’s teachings had crystalized in me as a strong commitment to citizenship and a deep respect for humanity. This commitment evolved at Park Tudor and later at Washington University-St. Louis, where I became a Harry. S. Truman Scholar based on dedication to public service. After college, with the goal of using the tools I had been given at Orchard to promote social justice, I attended Harvard Law School and have since been litigating in Chicago.
More than fifteen years have passed since I graduated from Orchard, but like so many of my Orchard classmates, I still draw on the lessons I learned there every day. And while most of my clients now are large, private companies, my practice will always be guided by the sense of respect, humanity, and social justice instilled in me at Orchard. Orchard taught me never to forget the importance of using my education to advocate for people like Markus, whose voices are not being heard in our legal system. I will always care, and I thank my Orchard community for that.