After working for the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s office for more than 20 years, DeeDee Watson hears the same two questions time and time again: How is she able to defend her indigent criminal clients, and how can she do it for so long?
Well, it all boils down to love.
“I love my job,” Watson said, “and I think the thing I like about it best is there is absolutely something different every day, even now.”
And she doesn’t just love the job, she loves her colleagues.
“I work with incredible people. … Early on I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I should find a better paying job or a different job,’” Watson said. “I just love my co-workers so much – why leave? And so, that makes coming to work easy. The people I work with are all just people I have such high regard for, and they keep me going, you know. We keep each other going, I guess.”
Watson’s biggest guiding principle in her work is to listen to clients, many of whom lack education or are mentally ill.
“It can take a lot of patience sometimes, and caseloads are extremely high,” she said, “but I do have to take the time to listen to their story. And often, how they get that story out is not in chronological order, but you have to take that time to listen to them so that in the end they are heard in that case of theirs. That’s what due process is all about: their ability to be heard.”
Watson said she hasn’t faced any overly difficult challenges as a woman in a male-dominated profession.
“In a prison setting, I’ve definitely been treated differently by guards because I’m a woman. Client-wise it’s never a problem,” she said. “Judges? You know, maybe, yeah, I had to teach them a few things … But there hasn’t been anything that has been overly difficult to overcome.”
In fact, she said, she’s found being a woman to be an advantage.
“I have found that, as I’ve gotten older, being a woman dealing with my clients, many of whom were raised by women only, that that’s been an advantage to me because I bring to them a perspective that their mom might bring,” Watson said. “And sometimes I think they find it easier to listen to me than it might be to listen to a male figure, none of which they respected in their life or they’ve always had positions of authority over them in their life. So in that way, I think that’s been a benefit.”