My PILP award enabled me to spend the summer working with Disability Rights Oregon – an advocacy organization that focuses on physical, developmental, and mental health related disabilities. The majority of my time was spent working on behalf of patients facing involuntary medication hearings at the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) in Salem. Our clients were at OSH on civil commitments, an inability to aid and assist in their defense, or having pled Guilty Except Insanity.
Prior to starting the position, I was initially conflicted about the work. “How am I helping someone who could benefit from medications by arguing they should not be forced to take medication?” My clients were individuals that were often very symptomatic and it seemed they would greatly benefit from taking medication. This conflict was quickly resolved however, when it became clear that the outcome of the hearing was not the most important piece of the experience. Absent these hearings, there was often no one looking out for the patient’s interests. These hearings offered a vital check on the powers of the hospital and doctors. Absent the hearings process, doctors would be able to use the most powerful antipsychotic medications to effectively sedate their patients, making them more manageable.
After the conclusion of my first hearing, a client turned to thank my boss and me. He explained that in his many years of experience with legal proceedings, this hearing was the first time he’d truly felt that someone was there to advocate on his behalf. Regardless of the outcome (which usually did not go in our client’s favor), the true “wins” were the moments a guarded patient placed their trust in us or when clients would share their experiences. I learned how to review and organize case files and medical records, how to prepare a client for their hearing, and how to craft and deliver a closing argument. The most meaningful lesson from this experience, however, was learning how to truly listen and validate someone’s experience without skepticism, judgement, or disbelief.
I am so grateful to PILP for supporting my work this summer – it was truly a gift. This experience was more humbling, rewarding, difficult, and meaningful then I could have imagined. I am so honored to have had the privilege of working with Disability Rights Oregon, my fantastic supervisors, and the clients that trusted me to work on their behalf.