Real Change: Amicus Intern, Maya Pisel

Maya Pisel is a Bonner Scholar majoring in American Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  She began her work with Amicus’ Reconnect program in January of this year and (to Amicus’ delight) she will return to continue her internship in the fall.  A native of Juneau, Alaska, Maya is spending her summer interning in the office of United States Senator Mark Begich

 On Maya’s last day at Amicus, she left us with a reflection piece regarding her experience in Reconnect.  Everyone on staff who had the chance to read it was blown away by the power of Maya’s prose and we knew that we had to share her reflection with as many people as we possibly could.  What follows are Maya’s words—uncut and unedited.  We hope that you will be as moved by Maya’s honesty and candor as we were; and we hope that her reflection will begin to open your eyes to the power of human connection as it exists at Amicus.  Enjoy!

I wanted to work in Reconnect because Amicus spoke to my experiences of control, weakness and shame. But this semester, learning in relationship, I found power, strength, and pride.

Maya, at home in her native Alaska

 Growing up, I felt like change happened to me. I never knew what I did wrong, why rage crushed the shards of my father’s mind. Some days we played chess and read poetry. To his friends, I was the pawn or the poem. I rarely knew why he left; I never knew if he would call. I tagged along with my mom to parties and odd jobs. We moved among apartments and basements and boats, sharing with whoever brought down the rent. Her boyfriends disappeared so easily I mostly missed their dogs, so I didn’t know what to think when she married a gentle artist.

 From a hundred transient misfits I learned to understand people but never trust them. I seized the unpredictable but sheltered my real self; I was independent but overwhelmed, safe but alone. 

 When I was 13, I created my own change: I walked out on life. My second chance was private school, where I punctuated assimilation with sabotage, unable to reconcile my experiences. I lived with 12 different families, and I only talked to my mom when I got suspended or she got pregnant. I learned how to study, and channeled my anger into imagination, dissociated my shame with policy. In that way my SAT fee waiver was a ticket from experience to analysis. I had privilege, so why did I still feel powerless?

 On my first day at Amicus, a man wept because his baby was kidnapped. I searched for emergency rent programs for single men but found many discontinued altogether. I sent a boy my age and man my grandfather’s to the Monday night shelter lottery. Every day I heard about rejection by employers, landlords, and relatives. I saw people pained to sacrifice inside changes for outside changes, forced into hostility and ego to survive.

 Daunted by unmet needs and struggling to situate myself in the world, Amicus taught me about real change: relationship. I realized my power to affirm the humanity that people don’t see.

 I let go of the forest and found the trees: Real change is 10 minutes on the phone listening to unheard slurs, one man’s philosophy of life. Real change happened when Michael learned to copy and paste, when Bruce and I laughed to tears at the Supervalu application, when Gayla told her boyfriend to wait while we made her own email. Anthony fumed in with 57 days to find a job, but he left saying you really care. Yvonne applied for college for the first time, Mike taught me about trucking and James shared wisdom from the Marines. While the outside world overpowered and dehumanized us at every turn, we made friends.

 When I started thinking of clients as friends, I found my people and myself. Realizing I don’t just like working with clients, I like clients, gave me the confidence to say: This is my world! Amicus empowered me to embrace my deep intuitions of what life is: transience. The outside chaos I fight is really inside chaos. Regardless of my environment, the world will always spin too fast unless I slow down my own head. Real change starts when I embrace whatever moment I am in, build something better with what I have, accept and respect the person who is in front of me.

 This semester I saw the perversions and shambles of democracy. But society can’t disempower me anymore. I won’t bury myself in politics that affect but don’t express my personal experiences. I revise power by being my best self, doing what I love to do: sit with someone, write a resume, make an email, find a job. The outside results matter, but the real power is the inside process of reciprocity and compassion. We change our own world at Amicus, together.

 Now I want to learn to share with people who scare me: people in charge, my peers in privilege. I am empowered, so I can open up to them, and I am respectful, so I can meet them where they are. I don’t have much to lose, because this semester I found something no outside changes can destroy: my own power to be myself, a friend. I want to learn more about housing and get better at writing resumes. I need to know about more resources and more experiences. But the hardest part of my job is well underway: I made real change this semester, and it started inside.

If you are interested in interning at Amicus, contact us at 612.348.8570 or via email at staff@amicususa.org