How a Library Became Part of Holistic Defense

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Release Date: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Pietro, the VISTA member at the Center for Appellate Litagation, interviewed Molly Schindler on how Books Beyond Bars got its start. Read on to see how VISTA and books fit into their office's mission.

A seasoned attorney, Molly Schindler leads the Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA) team and is the co-founder of Books Beyond Bars (BBB) at the Center for Appellate Litigation (CAL). The SORA team, she explains, is CAL’s team responsible for clients who have been convicted of sexual offenses. The program helps guide clients through their level assignment, future appeal, and later modification. The work does not end with Molly and the attorneys. The SORA team works closely with CAL’s social worker, Susannah Karlin and Client Advocate, Erika Parry, to ensure that any client’s assigned level does not negatively affect their daily life, including after release. Through Molly and her team’s legal efforts and Susannah and Erika’s personal relationships, CAL strives to offer these clients a more comprehensive and humane way forward. 

Shortly after arriving at CAL, Molly found herself learning from her then office-mate about his habit of sending books to client. Intrigued, she remembered her past work experience, where the office maintained a “library, of sorts,” that could furnish clients with books. Together, she and Ben Schatz began developing the idea of building such a program at CAL. After all, CAL prides itself on a commitment to “holistic representation.” The project grew quickly and soon became institutionalized as an office-wide program. Since then, several other attorneys have joined the team and the program has spread, first to the Office of the Appellate Defender and Appellate Advocates, and then to the entire state of New York. It now offers books to any incarcerated person in the state.  

Since its inception, BBB has provided Molly a new outlet for her desire to ensure that all persons are treated fairly before the law with respect as human beings. However, it has not been a completely smooth ride. Indeed, in both a positive and negative way, BBB has become a much more important part of her daily professional life than she ever anticipated. This is largely due to the program’s size, she explains. “It has grown enormously,” she says to the point of eating into her other obligations. 

The VISTA program, in this light, is a welcome respite. “You and the program allow BBB to flourish while giving me the time to focus on other things.” By having a VISTA in the office, Molly is tranquil about BBB’s future and success and free to concentrate her expertise and resources on SORA, which strengthens the truth of CAL’s professed holistic defense. Together, the two projects support one another in the shared goal of supporting CAL’s clients in the most robust way possible.