photo of Carol Holden

Carol Holden '81

When Carol Holden takes the stand, the opposition is “dead meat.” At least that's what a judge once remarked to the defense attorney after a verdict came down which reflected Holden's opinion. The judge said he knew the prosecution case was won as soon as he heard her testify that she was a Bryn Mawr alumna.

Holden works at Michigan's Center for Forensic Psychiatry (CFP), where she is assistant director of the Evaluation Unit. CFP performs court-ordered evaluations of all criminal defendants in Michigan who raise a mental health issue in the course of their proceedings. “I never thought I'd make a career of interviewing criminals!” She evaluates about 100 defendants each year, determining competency to stand trial and criminal responsibility, among other things. She testifies as required, up to 10 times a year.

Holden's job is never boring. “Hearing the vicissitudes of others' internal lives ... is a fabulous outlet for voyeuristic impulses," she said. "Freud taught us that where there is voyeurism, there is also exhibitionism, and my job provides an excellent outlet for exhibitionistic impulses as well.” Holden recently testified in the infamous and over-hyped Jenny Jones case, in which the defense attorney's cross-examination of her testimony “consisted mostly of his trying to make me look foolish, rigid, ignorant and biased. ... Although Court TV was a bit much, I do enjoy being on the witness stand, with so much riding on my opinion.

“I also really enjoy being part of a system in which I truly believe. For all its flaws, our criminal justice system is among the best in the world, and I'm proud to speak for those who might otherwise be unfairly convicted and to speak the truth (as I see it, of course) about those who might otherwise be unfairly freed.

“It can be difficult to maintain optimism in the face of such unremitting awfulness. The defendants often seem never to have had a chance and/or they seem uncompromisingly and unrehabilitatably antisocial. I hear of life situations and behavior horrible beyond belief. I'm repeatedly reminded of the depravity of which we're all capable.

“Every job has its stresses, and mine is no exception. I am under constant pressure; I have tremendous responsibility with little real power, and I'm part of a sometimes unwieldy bureaucracy. But I also feel passionate about my work, as do so many other Bryn Mawr alumnae.”

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