Rosie Heselev (BA/LLB (Hons) ’19) was inspired to attend university by her grandmother, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, who taught her the importance of education and contributing to the community. As a teenager, she decided to study law because knew she wanted to use her privilege to address social issues. While she was not sure what this meant or where to start, she sought inspiration through some of the programs available to students at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law.
“From a young age, I have been interested in justice and understanding how certain tragic events occur, and how we can respond,” Rosie said.
“I became involved with the ANU Law Reform and Social Justice (LRSJ) program, including the Prison Legal Literacy Clinic, where a group of law students provides legal education to incarcerated people in Canberra's prison.”
This clinical experience and the curiosity it fostered influenced her decision to pursue a career as a community lawyer.
“I became interested in prison and police abolition and see abolition theory as a hopeful reimagining of the world and a practical and real way to transform oppressive systems,” she said.
“Inspired by the radical history of the community legal sector, I could see myself practising in community law. I applied for a graduate position at Fitzroy Legal Service (FLS), and a few years later, I am there now as the prison lawyer.”
Rosie is currently a lawyer in the Prison Advocacy Program at FLS, Australia’s first non-Aboriginal community legal centre based in Melbourne. The program provides free legal information, advice and representation to people in prison in Victoria for issues relating to their incarceration.
As the only legal service of its kind in Victoria, Rosie highlights its importance to people in prison and their families in challenging the opaque nature of the prison system.
“We all know that human rights abuses thrive in secrecy,” she noted.
Knowing the value of her involvement with LRSJ during her ANU studies, Rosie was able to use a small grant awarded to FLS to work on a project with the Prison Legal Literacy Clinic through course convener Sarouche Razi.
Her hope is simple: that more law students will be curious, question structures of power, and contribute their skills to creating a more compassionate world.
“There is a huge gap in accessible information about rights for people in prison, resulting in confusion and misinformation. Due to my past connection with the Prison Legal Literacy Clinic, I reached out (to the ANU College of Law) for support to develop comprehensive legal resources for people in prison and their family,” she said.
“Thankfully, ANU was interested, and resources are being developed as part of the students’ – who have been fantastic, and understand the nuances and challenges of developing resources for people in prison – assessment for the course.”
As she maintains her connection with the ANU College of Law and continues her professional journey, Rosie said Canberra and the University will always hold a special place in her heart.
“I lived at Burton and Garran Halls and then share-houses across Canberra, where I made some of my truest friends. I loved Thursdays at the old Uni Bar, playing with my silly cover band at college gigs and sunsets on Mount Ainslie,” she said, adding the smell of Canberra’s gum leaves is “like first love”.
Looking ahead, she hopes to continue working alongside criminalised people and changing the underlying structures that contribute to criminalisation and incarceration.
“I want to continue exploring the question of abolition, and how we can move towards a more just world for all. I am not sure what that means yet, but all we can do is remain curious,” she said.