Phoebe Kasdin '18 came to UCLA School of Law with an unwavering commitment to help those who are struggling. She leaves as the first UCLA Law alum to receive a two-year fellowship that will allow her to provide holistic representation to indigent mothers who are facing criminal charges and a panoply of related troubles, including family destabilization and loss of child custody.
As an inaugural recipient of the George Kaiser Family Foundation Women's Justice Fellowship, Kasdin will receive a full salary for two years to work for the nonprofit Still She Rises in Tulsa, Okla. Still She Rises began as a project of the Bronx Defenders, the groundbreaking advocacy organization co-founded by Robin Steinberg, who is now the Gilbert Foundation Senior Fellow with UCLA Law's Criminal Justice Program.
Now independent, Still She Rises offers five post-graduate fellowships a year to recent law graduates to work in Tulsa, where women are incarcerated at higher rates than any other jurisdiction in the country. Each year, at least one Still She Rises fellowship will be awarded to a UCLA Law graduate.
Kasdin earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then gained rich experience in public policy before attending UCLA Law. She interned with lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and the Wisconsin state legislature, and worked with nonprofits in San Francisco and Milwaukee, addressing issues ranging from health care to education to prisoner reentry. Via email, Kasdin answered a few questions about her goals, the fellowship and her experience at UCLA Law, where she was a student in the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy.
What spurred you to apply for the women's justice fellowship? Why are you passionate about this work?
The fellowship seemed to perfectly combine all of my interests and past experiences into one position. Immediately prior to law school I was working in a prison in Milwaukee, helping individuals apply for Medicaid prior to release. The experience of spending full days inside a prison was deeply transformative and I knew right away that I wanted to dedicate my career to helping those men and women whose lives would be forever impacted by the criminal justice system.
Building upon this experience, I made every effort during law school to further my understanding of this area of the law. I took many classes, participated in two clinical courses, interned at the California Appellate Project and externed at the ACLU National Prison Project. All of these experiences helped me think holistically about the ways in which the criminal justice system affects people's lives, both while they are in prison and upon release.
The work at Still She Rises excites me because it is a new organization that is focused on developing an innovative model to end the growth of women's incarceration. Having the opportunity to be part of something new where I can contribute to such important work means everything to me.
Who at UCLA Law is an inspiration to you, and why?
While in law school I was particularly motivated by professors Beth Colgan, Jyoti Nanda, Ingrid Eagly, Julie Cramer and Sharon Dolovich, all of whom gave me new ideas and spurred me to think creatively about the need to reform our criminal justice system. It was through the Youth & Justice Clinic with Professor Nanda and the Criminal Defense Clinic with Professors Eagly and Cramer that I was first exposed to holistic defense and had the opportunity to meaningfully engage in client-centered lawyering. I likely would not have applied for this fellowship had it not been for the support I received from Professor Eagly. She encouraged me to think about public defense in a whole new light and helped me realize how all of my past experiences and interests fit together, leading me to this position.
How does this opportunity match up to your long-term goals?
Given my commitment to prisoners' rights and criminal justice reform, I could not be any more excited about starting my career at Still She Rises. Moving to Tulsa—going where the need is greatest—and being part of the community there excites me.
By getting to know the North Tulsa community and the many ways in which women's lives are uniquely affected by the criminal justice system, I hope to be able to provide better, more comprehensive, meaningful advocacy to mothers, who have so much on the line.
Given that I never thought I would move to Oklahoma, I am not sure exactly what comes next, but I am confident that these two years will be life-changing and will only further my strong commitment to this work.