The Civil Cocktail: Meredith Soniat
By: Bryan Dupree
Meredith Soniat is an attorney with the Southeastern Immigrant Freedom Initiative. We arrive at Olive or Twist on a fairly busy Friday evening.
Meredith orders the special of the day and I opt for a Cocktail Roulette (you pick two categories from a list and the bartender creates a custom cocktail). My categories were “crisp and refreshing” and “gin.” We both take a sip and the interview begins.
Me: So, the way this works is: I don’t prepare anything ahead of time and we just wing it…
Since I don’t have any questions prepared, I recycle one from my last interview.
Me: What’s your favorite Civil Code article?
Meredith: The last time I used the code was the on the bar exam…
Apparently a background in Louisiana law isn’t super useful in immigration courts. Who knew? My go-to question has backfired. How do I recover? Keep it simple, Bryan.
Me: Tell me more about your job.
Meredith: There’s a humanitarian crisis in the detention centers. They are shadow prisons. Our main goal is to get people out of detention with a release strategy or on bond or parole.
That changed the mood.
Meredith: We have four locations across the U.S. but I work in Jena.
Me: How’s that?
Meredith: It’s a dry town…
We both take a sip just thinking about that. Make that two sips.
Meredith is a 2015 graduate of PMH.
Me: Is this job what you planned to do after law school?
Meredith: The plan was to get an L.L.M. in international human rights, but I felt compelled to take this job. The crisis is here. I use foreign language skills. We are paid in emotional currency.
In addition to emotional currency, we discuss how donations have increased in the past year.
Me: How can students get involved?
Meredith: Students can volunteer remotely and help gather documents, do translation work and bond movements, or in person by screening people at detention centers and watching hearings. You don’t realize what it’s really like until you’re there.
Me: You and I have discussed the idea of me writing a letter to a detainee. What if we created an event on campus for students to write letters to detainees?
Meredith: That would be amazing!
We discuss how the detainees appreciate any words of encouragement they receive
Me: You have a pretty heavy job. How do you balance that? Do you have balance?
Meredith: Hell no. I play with my dog. We’ve been invited to so many churches.
I remember that it’s a dry town and take another sip.
Meredith: Someone comes from Alexandria once a week and teaches yoga in a barn.
Me: Wait, what? How many people attend barn yoga?
Meredith: Like, 10 or 15.
Barns and exercise. I could not be more out of my element. Seasoned journalist, folks.
Me: Your mom is Karen Soniat?
Me: Okay, so what’s the dirt?
Meredith: My mom is a badass! She has energy like she’s on speed.
Me: She’s not, though.
Basically, I got no dirt. I learned what we all already knew: Karen Soniat is amazing. I’m out of questions so I recycle another one from last month.
Me: What’s the waitress’s name?
Meredith: I forgot. Maybe she didn’t tell us.
Me: We’ll go with that…
She did tell us, though.
With our glasses now empty and our spin dip all gone, we end the interview. Meredith ranked her Imperial Floradora 3.75 out of 5 Napoleons. My Cocktail Roulette earned 4 Napoleons. Check out Olive or Twist on Perkins Road. Happy hour ends at 7 pm.