Kirstin Eidenbach ’98 was working at the international law firm Perkins Coie when she was asked to take on a pro bono case investigating medical and mental health care in Arizona’s prisons. Though she already had a full docket of pro bono cases, primarily dealing with LGBTQA issues, she took on the case. It was a decision that would alter the course of her career.
One of her first interviews was with a 30-year-old man serving a short sentence for DUI. The man had an untreated cut that become infected, and when Eidenbach met him, septic shock had progressed to the point that he could no longer speak. He died three days after she met him. "What should have been a short sentence for a healthy young man turned into a death sentence because he didn’t have access to the most basic healthcare.”
That case and many like it led Eidenbach to found the Arizona Transformative Law and Social (ATLaS) Justice Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing systemic change to Arizona’s prison systems.
What have you accomplished thus far in your career that you are most proud of?
I wouldn’t say there is a single accomplishment in my career that I am most proud of, other than my good fortune to have been able to construct a career around helping some of the most marginalized people in our country.
What is the biggest change that you would like to see in our current prison system?
We’ve seen in many European countries that the most effective correctional institutions are those that retain a sense of humanity, that foster mentorship and friendship between guards and prisoners, and that closely reflect the society to which prisoners will return after serving their sentence. American corrections does the opposite of these things, and that is why we have such grossly high rates of recidivism. Prison reform is a multi-layered, very complex issue, but if we approach it using these two touchstones, we will be well on our way toward remedying our system’s most egregious failures.
How did your experience at Knox prepare you for the work you’re doing today?
Knox remains at the heart of all my professional endeavors. At Knox, I learned to question the boxes I built for myself, to push myself far out of my comfort zone, and to have confidence that even if the path wasn’t clear, my intuition and intelligence would guide me in the right direction. I left Knox knowing it was okay—great, even—to not fit into a professional mold. My career now is far from ordinary, and much of it requires me to map my own way, to create new paths, and to trust that I won't get lost. My time at Knox is certainly part of what makes this possible.