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by Orissa Arend

Trezell Ragas has a huge job. She recruits and trains a pool of Court Watch volunteers, 100-150 at any given time, of which I am one. Not only that, but she answers all of our questions, holds our hands until we have confidence in what we are doing, and keeps us all happy.

Court Watch NOLA partners with seven colleges and universities and enlists a diverse group of people ages 18 and over from all walks of life.

“Some have come to us because they have been through the criminal justice system and they want to be part of reforming it,” Ragas says, adding that there is no educational requirement to volunteer. “Anything we want you to know, we’re going to train you on ourselves. We know for a fact that it takes people from all backgrounds to bring change. This is not a black or a white issue. It’s a community issue, a national issue, a global issue.”

Court Watch NOLA started in 2007 with only an executive director.

Today Court Watch NOLA has an expanding staff of four full-time employees and two consultants. Ragas is a full-time employee who came on board a year and a half ago. She grew up in Plaquemines Parish and never imagined leaving Louisiana until Hurricane Katrina hit when she was 12.

“We lost our entire home. I know it was hard on my parents, but they did such a great job of keeping it from the kids that it was a blessing and a curse.  I was able to meet a lot of people and found out that there was a wider world out there. After Katrina my life just kept going up and up.”

Ragas is the first in her family to graduate from college. In her current job, she does training on the criminal courts for students and community members. Before coming back to New Orleansshe worked on national political campaigns and became an organizer for political campaigns, labor unions, and the ACLU. She did her junior year abroad in Africa because she was interested in becoming a diplomat.

“I’m only 23, so I still have time if I want to become a diplomat,” she says.

In my opinion, she has time to become just about anything. She’s thinking of going to law school.

I asked Ragas what has impressed her about Court Watch NOLA.

“People say that having someone in the courthouse really changes the environment. I didn’t believe it until I saw it, until I sat in and began building a relationship with other stakeholders. When I come in with my yellow lanyard and yellow clipboard people want to know what I’m doing. We get to explain that we’re here for you. We’re here for the public. They find out that we’re here to hold elected officials accountable and to make sure the courtroom is transparent. It’s the best publicity for us. Sometimes people ask us to watch for their family member’s case. We can honor special requests and monitor specific cases.”

Updates: One of the special requests was Rodneka S. whom I have written about in my previous columns. Rodneka, a young artist and activist who stepped up to rescue a baby from the arms of a mother who was being assaulted by the police, was charged with assault on an officer and resisting arrest. Now, almost a year after her arrest, and pregnant, she decided to take a plea deal to protect her health and the health of her own baby. Court Watch NOLA found out about Rodneka’s case from Justice and Beyond, a coalition of community organizers and activists. Stay tuned for more of Rodneka’s story.

To sign up for Court Watch training or for more information call Trezell Ragas at 504-715-0519 or email her at tragas@courtwatchnola.org. The next training will be from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. Monday, May 21 at Propeller, 4035 Washington Ave.

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