ANU has played such a major role in shaping me into who I am, not just in terms of my education and my qualifications, but who I am as a human being.
Law was never part of the plan for Himangi Ticku.
Seventeen and fresh out of high school, she left home in New Delhi, India and travelled halfway around the world to pursue a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in International Relations and Political Science, at The Australian National University (ANU).
In fact, it wasn’t until Himangi graduated from her undergraduate degree in 2018 and could no longer ignore the voices from her lecturers and fellow students, urging her to study law, that she eventually decided to enrol in the Juris Doctor.
“After that very first hour, in my very first class, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Himangi said.
“It all started from there.”
Finding her passion in prison
Himangi started volunteering at Prisoners Aid ACT in her second year of law, after representatives from the charity organisation came to campus to speak to students about their work supporting detainees and their families in the region.
“At the time, I thought it would be a good idea to volunteer with them, while I was studying criminal law,” Himangi said.
However, she quickly found she had a passion for it.
“I enjoyed it so much that I asked if they’d be open to me doing it as part of my law internship,” she said.
The Law Internship (LAWS6230) course provides ANU students with the opportunity to put theory into practice and carry out a research project in a legal professional workplace.
Himangi’s research project focused on the issues faced by former detainees with reintegration into the community.
“I just got intrigued,” she said.
“I could see for myself that these are real people, with real stories.
“I wanted to focus my research on the reality I saw in front of me.”
Through her internship and volunteer work, Himangi witnessed firsthand the real-life difference secure employment can make to detainees reintegrating into society.
“Job security post-release (from prison) can bring such a positive change to people’s lives,” Himangi said.
“I could see how it helps to break the pattern for people who really just want a second chance.”
Based on her research, Himangi believes that the ACT criminal justice system provides detainees with this second chance through its commitment to rehabilitation.
“The best part about our criminal justice system is that the focus on rehabilitation does not begin after someone serves their sentence, but the day a person receives their sentence.”
“While there are certainly challenges, they aren’t specific to Canberra. We are way ahead and a lot more progressive than many other states and countries,” she said.
While her internship and research project eventually came to an end, Himangi’s passion for working with detainees and their families did not.
She stayed on as a volunteer at Prisoners Aid ACT and has now been with the organisation for almost two years.
“They can’t get rid of me,” Himangi joked.
As part of her volunteer work, Himangi regularly conducts welfare checks on detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, Canberra’s only adult prison.
Like the ANU-run Prison Legal Literacy Clinic (LAWS4304) at the same facility, the Prisoners Aid ACT program has clear boundaries for participants regarding interaction with inmates.
“We’re not their lawyers, we’re not their legal aids and we don’t provide them with any legal advice,” Himangi said.
“Sometimes, people just want to have a chat and a friendly face to talk to.”
Lessons learned in lockup
Now in her sixth year of study at ANU and final semester of her Juris Doctor, Himangi is still deciding her next steps after graduation.
What she does know is that her internship and volunteer work will help shape her future career as a lawyer.
“I still don’t know what kind of lawyer I want to be, but this experience really helped me understand what kind of lawyer I don’t want to be,” Himangi said.
“It helped me understand what kind of values and work ethic I want to have as a lawyer, and helped me draw that line between being empathetic and remaining objective.”
This experience has also shaped Himangi’s philosophy as a soon-to-be legal professional.
“I have learned that the most important thing is the cause you work for, and the people you work with,” Himangi said.
Approaching the finish line
However, with graduation just round the corner, Himangi is focused on the finish line.
“Since it’s my last semester, I just really want to make the most of it and enjoy being on campus before I get into that cycle of adult life,” she said.
“I obviously want to put my best foot forward, but I don’t want to stress myself to a point where I lose sight of why I started doing this in the first place.”
Reflecting on her experiences since that very first hour in her very first class, Himangi believes her time at ANU Law has been life-changing, both academically and personally.
“ANU has played such a major role in shaping me into who I am, not just in terms of my education and my qualifications, but who I am as a human being,” Himangi said.
“If it wasn’t for the experiences I have had here, in a supportive learning environment, I wouldn’t have the values that I have today.”