Meet the Harris County Public Defender Who’s Crowdfunding Books for Her Clients

Houston Chronicle

By Keri Blakinger

For three years, Amalia Beckner went into work at the crack of dawn, starting her day in an empty public defender’s office that was quiet except for the frantic whir of the copy machine.

James Baldwin. Zora Neale Hurston. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ernest Cline.

She copied from them all, in bits and pieces. A chapter of Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” A few pages from Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, “Annihilation.”

Beckner, a 29-year-old defense lawyer, was on a mission: Bringing books to her clients in the Harris County jail. Without the spare cash to buy new paperbacks for everyone she represented, copying segments to send seemed the next best option for the defendants who couldn’t afford to buy reading materials. Sometimes her photocopying sprees came once a week. Sometimes she could only squeeze in one a month.

But a few weeks ago her morning sessions came to an end when Beckner turned to the internet for financial support and started crowdfunding the reading materials. On June 5, the Harris County public defender put up a Facebook post linking to an Amazon wish list.

“My clients are all indigent, and most have faced major traumas throughout their lives,” she wrote. “I’m terrible at asking for help, but this is me asking.”

By that evening, she had $800 in donations. In the morning, it was up to $1,100. By the weekend the figure had risen to $1,400. As of the first week of July, she’d gotten the first 13 books delivered to clients.

“It felt like such a windfall,” Beckner said.

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