NAME: Allison Frankel
CURRENTLY LIVING IN: New York City
SCHOOLS: Marblehead High School ’07, University of Wisconsin-Madison ’11, Yale Law School ’17
FAVORITE FOOD: Cheese – all cheese.
FAVORITE MUSIC: I am a sucker of music that was popular in the mid to late ’90s and early ’00s. Anything they would play on the Sirius pop rock station: Alanis Morissette, Third Eye Blind, Blink 182.
FAVORITE BOOK: Basically anything by Kurt Vonnegut – “Slaughterhouse-Five” was my first favorite book, and still stays very high up there.
FAVORITE MOVIES: “Legally Blonde” and “Ten Things I Hate About You.”
FAVORITE TV SHOWS: “Friends” and “West Wing.”
FAVORITE TRAVEL DESTINATIONS: It’s a tie between the Italian coast and the north of Vietnam; I next want to do Portugal and the south of Spain.
FAVORITE JEWISH PERSON NOT IN YOUR FAMILY: Jon Stewart
FAVORITE JEWISH HOLIDAY: Passover
WHAT WAS YOUR JEWISH BACKGROUND GROWING UP?
Growing up we were raised in a household that I think was a lot more spiritual than religious in any traditional sense – we were raised Jewish, but my mom also practiced Buddhism. We were kind of infused with this very humanistic, treat everyone equally, do good works type of mentality that derived from Judaism and Buddhism and general moral philosophy. So those principles have really stuck with me throughout my life, but even though I went through Hebrew school and confirmation when I was younger, the traditional temple community has not stayed with me as much, but a lot of those practices still have.
YOU’VE USED THOSE PRINCIPLES FOR A CAREER DEDICATED TO SOCIAL JUSTICE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
In college, I really had two tracks … one was international human rights, and particularly examining why people commit mass atrocities against each other, and what we can do to heal in the aftermath. The second track was criminal justice reform in the US. After college, I worked for the United Nations International Tribune for the former Yugoslavia, helping to prosecute Ratko Mladić, who had been the leader of the Bosnian Serb army. While that was happening, the news was breaking in the United States about our drone-targeted killing program … and I kind of had a moment of sitting here as an American working to promote accountability for international law, and here my own country is completely violating these same norms. And I had this nagging feeling that I wanted to go back to the States and work on the international human rights movement, but in my own country. So I ended up going to the American Civil Liberties Union, working on human rights and criminal justice issues there, and after a couple of years I decided to go to law school. In law school, I was a member of our criminal justice clinic, where I practiced public defense, representing poor people in New Haven who were charged with crimes. On the other hand, I worked to document human rights abuses in the US, including the ways in which homelessness is criminalized in Connecticut, and extreme forms of solitary confinement imposed on terrorists and detainees around the country. I spent one summer as a defender for poor people in the Bronx, and my second summer at a place called the Southern Center for Human Rights, and there I worked defending people on death row in Alabama and Georgia. After I graduated I spent a year clerking for Judge Andrew Carter in the Southern District of New York, and this year I am a fellow at a post-conviction public defender’s office called the Center for Appellate Litigation which represents poor people on appeals challenging their convictions, and I work specifically with their sex offender registration unit, so I challenge people convicted on archaic and unconstitutional restrictions on people convicted of sex offenses.
AFTER SEEING SO MUCH INJUSTICE UP CLOSE, DO YOU STILL HAVE HOPE?
I still feel hopeful. This work is just really filled with tragedy, and in cases of violent crime – it’s tragic for the victims who are hurt, it’s tragic for my clients who are thrown into Rikers Island [the infamous maximum-security New York City prison], where they face abuse by other prisoners and guards, it’s tragic for their families who are pulled away from them, for their kids who are pulled away from them – you’re seeing violence and indignity all around. But when you dig further into these cases, I see so much humanity and hope there – talking to families who are sticking together, despite being labeled a sex offender and incarcerated for five years, people moving to obscure parts of Brooklyn and Queens to find somewhere that meets the residency restrictions, so the family can stay together when their husband gets out of prison; people who truly change after years behinds bars, and write these incredible letters to the people they’ve harmed because of their crimes – so there’s a lot of hope there, but it also gives me a lot of anger, because you see the systemic biases that are just weighing down on poor people, and people of color in our country.