Photo of Devina Patel
Photo by Sapna Sundar (SSP Photography).

5 questions with… pre-law student Devina Patel

Over the summer, junior Devina Patel left her hometown of Cleveland for an internship in Washington, D.C. She came back armed with legal knowledge, a passion for criminal justice, and an inspiration for what she hopes will become a new student organization.

Patel, an English and finance major on the pre-law track, was one of six students from around the country selected for a hands-on internship in Georgetown Law’s clinics. While covering 20 to 25 cases over just three months, she did everything from delivering subpoenas and conducting background checks to taking witness statements and meeting clients in jail.

Working in the Criminal Justice Clinic, Patel learned much about not just the criminal justice and legal systems, but also about the individuals involved, on all sides of cases.

“It’s really critical to not just look at a prisoner or any human by just one act they’ve done or just one singular thing,” she said. “Sitting down and talking to them gave me a look at the bigger picture of their lives. … That’s really important to take a look at.”

While there, Patel discovered the Free Minds Book Club, a program that uses books, creative writing and peer support to inspire incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youths and adults. The program also provides job-readiness training and violence-prevention outreach to help these individuals to achieve their educational and career goals.

The organization united Patel’s interests: criminal justice, law and English.

“The stories [I heard and that they shared on their website]—some of the people never thought they would start writing poems or even reading in the first place,” Patel said. “Then, [through Free Minds], they started writing and exploring this whole other realm while in prison. It’s such a great resource for them to have and get into.”

Patel is now in the beginning stages of re-creating the organization in Cuyahoga County and has been in touch with the leaders of the Free Minds Book Club in Washington, D.C., to help her get started. She has developed the content for the program, garnered interest among her peers and secured an adviser to hopefully achieve Undergraduate Student Government recognition for the Cleveland Free Minds Book Club.

By leading the organization, she will add it to her packed schedule of extracurricular activities, which include the Class Officer Collective (she’s vice president of her class), Spartan Bhangra, the Academic Integrity Board and the Phi Mu sorority.

Those who are interested in the Free Minds Book Club can attend an informational meeting Monday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. in Rockefeller Building, Room 309.

To learn more about Patel, see how she answered this week’s five questions.

1. What’s your favorite poem or poet?

I read a lot of poetry. One poet I really love and recently discovered is Yrsa Daley-Ward. She’s this really powerful, bold contemporary poet. Some of the themes that she writes about are mental health, feminism and heritage.

For my favorite poem, I have a lot, but “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” by Emily Dickinson. It basically speaks about the theme of change and how it’s scary but also illuminating. It’s something that can be painful or something that you don’t want to happen, but it’s essential.

It really resonates with me right now because I’ve constantly been changing and growing these past three years.

2. Do you prefer e-readers or actual books?

I prefer actual books because I take a lot of notes and highlight a lot. It’s really cool to go back and see what I was thinking and feeling and my opinions during that time. I feel like the whole book almost becomes a piece of artwork afterward.

3. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Growing up, and even now, my grandma constantly gives me priceless advice. The one piece of advice that I’ve kept with me throughout is to weave together a life for myself—to be able to stand on my own feet, to create this environment around me that makes me happy, to surround myself with people who provide me with happiness and nourishment to go after what I desire.

4. If you were to become famous for something, for what do you think it would be?

It would be really cool to be famous for something like creating a new law or fighting or judging a critical case. There are so many things in the legal field that would be super exciting so I’m hopeful.

But apart from the legal field, I have a passion for cooking, which I got from my dad. He’s just so creative with everything he makes. It would be really cool to be famous for opening my own restaurant or bakery.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The people and the activities that Case [Western Reserve] has to offer. Through my activities, I’ve been able to meet such a wide variety of people—people from my dance team, from my sorority, from the Class Officer Collective. It allows for such unique friendships and connections that I know will last a lifetime. Everyone I meet is passionate and committed to what they’re doing and it’s inspiring.

Another thing is the experience I’ve had with my English professors. Their classes have nourished me and helped me grow. They teach us how to understand other people through culture and language, about what goes into making a work of art, and and how to understand the whole human experience.