Never Judge a Book by its Cover

A lawyer by profession, Sam Rapp is also an accomplished playwright and poet[1].  Like so many artists this year, she will not be performing her regular show called “The Amazing Dyslexic Poetry Show” at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, or taking her plays, cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

What sets Sam apart from the rest of her peers is her poetry, Sam performs as Sam Rapp (The Dyslexic poet) highlighting neuro-diversity,  through her titles  “I Can’t Spell & I Don’t Do Grammar” and “I Don’t Do Maths” are just some examples. These unusual titles give more than a clue to indicate her performance narrative.   It might be difficult to imagine she has dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, all of which are characterised as neurodivergent. [1]  and would normally be a hindrance to entering the world of writing.

The other thing that sets Sam apart from the norm is her back story. Although working as a practising lawyer, and writer, success has not been easy.  Having left school with no formal qualifications, at just 15 by the age of 18 Sam was homeless, jobless and living in squats. What she wasn’t aware of, was her life was about to change.

One day while out walking in her hometown of Brighton, a somewhat dishevelled and eccentric looking older man passed Sam in the street. He noticed Sam and wanted to talk, which subsequently led to him offering to mentor and to help Sam get back on her feet. This kind gentleman was a Professor of Law at the University of Sussex.

The Professor spotted something in Sam not seen by anyone before.  He was the first person to give Sam value in herself, by raising her confidence and self-esteem. Two attributes which were consistently broken down during her school years by bullying, not by her peers but the system.  As Sam was not entered into any exams, as they felt she would not pass any.

With the assistance of the Professor who was true to his word, by allowing Sam the time to learn, he coached and mentored her journey to achieve the qualifications needed for law school. Sam graduated from Staffordshire University  with a 2:1 Honours, degree Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and also completed creative writing and postgraduate courses.  Sam loved the learning experience and certainly doesn’t think you need to study at Oxford or Cambridge to show academic worth!

Sam’s experiences at university and subsequent legal career were challenging.  No one knew about her dyslexia, as Sam was afraid of being stigmatised, and too  embarrassed to tell anyone which over time led to hostility. Colleagues highlighted spelling and grammar mistakes and grew frustrated with her need to ask questions. They showed little empathy and eventually Sam felt they got fed up with her. Sadly, Sam’s newfound confidence was beginning to be eroded again. This led to Sam growing more inward looking and afraid to ask her colleagues for help, resulting in further work errors and increased feelings of isolation, and failure.

Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon. According to the American lawyer David Boies [2] , his experience of having dyslexia and working in a law firm, although not the same as Sam’s, was one of not entirely welcoming. Sam shares his view of the “it’s the work product that people look at, not how the lawyer got there”.

Sam continues to work as a lawyer and champions the course for those with disability and neuro-diversity, she is happy working in her current role, and has moved on. She is no longer working on civil rights, projects  but is involved with dyslexia networks with performance and  writing commitments, which due to Covid-19, has moved on line, where she conducts creative writing workshops and is a regular on BBC radio Kent.

Sam’s latest project is “Get writing for the NHS” raising funds for the NHS, from an anthology of poetry and short stories about what the NHS means to people, ( Made in Medway, but everywhere) to be published later this year subject to the current situation. It is very true to say, “You can never judge a book by it’s cover,” If Sam had not met the Professor that day, who knows what would have happened next, but we know what’s happening now, Sam is happy and fulfilled as a lawyer and writer.

 

[1] https://www.achieveability.org.uk/files/1275491669/neuro-diversity-diagram.pdf

 

[2] https://www.law360.com/articles/1071680/david-boies-on-how-dyslexia-shaped-his-practice

 

[1]  https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/why-neurodiversity-workplace-should-be-embraced

 

Ross Duncan

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