Those Faced With Prison Have Got A Friend For Life

December 30, 1990|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe

Susan G. Moreland works with people charged with and convicted of robbery, rape, child abuse, murder.

And even though Moreland, 35, works with clients that many people would want nothing to do with, she thinks it's crucial to listen to their stories and offer opportunities that might change their lives.

"I think you have to look at the whole person; the whole picture," she said. "Sometimes good people do bad things. You have to give them a chance to become good people again."

Moreland has worked in the county Office of the Public Defender for five years. Her job as "intake person" requires her to interview criminal defendants to see if they financially qualify to be represented by a public defender.

Over the years, however, her job has evolved into much more than that.

She spends much of her time getting people help they need.

In some cases, she admits, nothing she does will make a difference.

"Sometimes no matter what I do, I can't change the outcome," she said.

"I can only present the opportunities."

But with many clients, she believes, opportunities such as drug therapy or psychological counseling can make all the difference in the world.

She remembers one client -- a 26-year-old county man -- who was facing a grim future. He had gotten into a lot of trouble, been jailed and was facing more charges. Moreland helped him get into drug treatment and then a halfway house.

He now holds down two jobs and is about to move into his own apartment, she said. When he called to say he credits her with helping him turn his life around, she felt especially gratified.

"I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of knowing I've helped them," she said.

Scattered across her office walls are cards and pictures inmates have drawn for her, phone messages from former clients, even a needlepoint picture that a male inmate made for her.

One card features drawings of cartoon characters Garfield and Odie -- both in the slammer -- with Garfield on the phone saying, "I'm calling Sue.

She'll straighten this out."

Another inmate passed out fliers in the county jail that read: "If you need help, call Susan."

District Public Defender Carol A. Hanson, Moreland's boss, said the Glen Burnie native is the best person ever hired for the job.

"She makes the office work," Hanson said. "She's so good because she cares about the clients. . . . She's enthusiastic, caring and certainly hard-working."

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