Everybody Is Somebody’s Child

Interview with Judge Karen Friedman

Erin Kavitsky

Today we returned to the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice to interview Judge Karen Friedman. She talked a great deal about her life and work including how she came to be a judge and how she grew up. The first thing I noticed about her is her style. I usually think of judges as people who don’t ever dress up or express themselves through fashion and clothing, but she does not fit that stereotype. She entered the room in an all-black outfit that looked like it had been styled by a designer. The only thing that had color to it was the Louis Vuitton bag that she brought with her. She is proof that not all judges need to look bland and serious. She showed up eager to talk to us, and she made interviewing her easy and fun. She made everyone feel comfortable around her, but she also gave the impression that she has no tolerance for disrespect. I was very impressed with her.

Another thing I noticed and admired about her was that she feels strongly that children should be tried in court as children. She explained that she believes that everybody is a child of God and therefore should be treated with respect. Even if someone comes to her in handcuffs, she wants to make sure that person is heard and respected. She wants people on trial to know that she is doing her job according to the law and that it is not personal when she sentences people to jail. She explained that everybody is somebody’s child, so it is her duty to treat everyone with respect because, at the end of the day, the person standing before her is as much a human being as you and I.

Bella Padilla

Today we had the opportunity to interview Judge Karen Friedman. From the moment she walked into the room she commanded attention with her presence. She wore a most stunning outfit that was paired with the most luxurious Louis Vuitton bag. She was lovely as we interviewed her.

I was fortunate to ask the first question, and I enjoyed her answer. She stated that, in her opinion, everyone is made in the image of God, so everybody deserves to be treated with respect. According to her, it doesn’t matter who she’s talking to, or whether they’re in an orange suit with handcuffs or not: they deserve to be heard and respected. 

Her ability to humanize everyone she encounters has helped her make connections with individuals that benefit everyone. She told us a story of someone she helped escape the justice system by putting them into an addiction program. Because she saw the person before her as a human being who needed help, she was able to give him the help he needed to overcome his addiction. Not only did she and that person find mutual respect, but she maintains a real relationship with him to this day.

I’m very grateful for the time she spent with us today, and I think I’ll always remember what she shared with us.

Ethan Lee

Today, our class interviewed Judge Karen Friedman. Everybody was looking forward to this interview, and I think that everybody’s expectations were not only met but exceeded.

She has an amazing presence, and the way that she spoke to us made us feel heard and appreciated. All of her answers included great detail, and she was clearly excited to be talking about important issues with us. I liked it when she said that many people are well aware of how to deal with issues pertaining to child incarceration, but the issue is getting government officials to do something about it. I also like that, when asked about what is important when choosing a school, she stated that the “best” school isn’t necessarily the school that is best for you. She talked about her son’s search for a law school and trying to find the best fit for him. Both Harvard and Yale, the two most prestigious law schools in the country, accepted him. Yale attracts many liberal-minded students, and although that isn’t a bad thing, Judge Friedman believes that it is good to be exposed to views that differ from one’s own. This among many other factors, is why he has decided to attend Harvard.

I also liked that she is one of the most “human” judges I’ve seen, as she talked a lot about making personal connections with the people she sees in her courtroom. No matter who comes through her door or the background they bring with them, she treats every person with the same respect that everyone deserves. “Everybody is somebody’s child,” she said. I can’t think of a better way to approach cases, because not all cases are the same and not all individuals have the same story, but everyone deserves to be treated fairly.

Emma Monclus

I knew as I researched Judge Karen Friedman’s biography that she was going to be fun to interview, and as she walked into the room I knew she would not disappoint. She sported stylish clothing, several large white necklaces, long lashes, black acrylic nails, blonde curled hair, and high heels. She also has a large “presence” that demands attention.

She was captivating as she answered the questions we had for her, and she gave long answers that anticipated other questions we had lined up. She clearly loves to talk, but everything that she said was important and inspirational, and I found myself taking notes on everything she said. She also has good morals and character traits. It was incredible how fairly and equitably she treats everyone: “Even if they’re in chains, even if they’re a drug addict, even if they have mental health issues … every single person has a piece of the divine in them … every single person deserves a level of respect because they all represent the divine.” Clearly, faith plays a large role in her life. Her open mindedness and willingness to change the world was extremely refreshing to see, as it made me realize that there are quality people working to make our criminal justice system better.

Irulan Cockrum

Today we interviewed Judge Karen Friedman, a presidential appointee at the Bureau of Justice Assistance. She is known best for her expertise on the intersection of criminal justice and behavioral health and for her unique approach to sentencing and probation, being very open minded towards every person she meets in court. 

One thing I really appreciated about her is that she implements her faith into her work. She works not just with her brain and facts but with her heart and emotions. She explained that she was raised very religious and to see every person as “made in the image of God.” She brings this positivity and open mindedness to her work and always asks herself, “How can I help someone as a child of God?”

I think this is a beautifully nondiscriminatory and accepting way to treat people. She told us a story about a case she had in which a man was charged for assault, and that he had a clear history of alcohol and drug abuse. Instead of sending him to jail, she sent him to a recovery program. She explained that he had been using drugs since the age of eight and that, now in his 50s, he is completely sober. In her courtroom, he had begged her to send him to jail and not to a treatment program, but she was adamant that he attend the program, and as a result he has made a remarkable recovery.

I asked her to share why she chooses to express herself through fashion. Before the interview, I had learned that she always dresses in designer clothes, even when she visits prisons. I found this fact about her incredible and unique, especially since she is one of the top judges in the country. She told me that a love of fashion has always been a part of her personality. I admired her for this because it shows that she does not let the opinions of others dictate who she is or how she expresses herself. In a world of constant judgment and criticism, it is refreshing to see someone in a profession such as hers who is unafraid to be herself.

As she left the interview, she whispered to me, “Stay fashionable.” I smiled as I appreciated both her spirit and her advice to stay authentic. 

Mount Madonna School students with Judge Karen Friedman