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Interviews with Activists, Advocates, Religious Actors, and Service Providers

 

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Interview with Angela Brown

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Angela Brown is the sister of Kevin Brown, who was shot and killed in 2007, by Austin Police Department Sergeant Michael Olson. In this interview, Brown shares the trauma of losing her brother to police violence and her mother to cancer within months of each other. She discusses her work with Texas Advocates for Justice (TAJ), fighting for justice in the midst of grief, and other losses her family has suffered due to police violence. She shares what advocacy and justice mean to her, and her thoughts on the relationship between black communities and police in America. This interview took place on July 15, 2017 in Austin, Texas, at the residency of Angela Brown.

 
Interview with Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen

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At the time of this interview in 2008, Bishop Leroy Theodore Matthiesen (1921 - 2010) was the Bishop Emeritus of Amarillo. In this interview he discusses the moral and religious beliefs that created the most controversy during his tenure as bishop: his encouragement of Pantex employees to leave their work of assembling nuclear weapons; ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics; his advocacy for Johnny Frank Garrett, who was executed for rape and murder of the Sister Tadea Benz; and organic farming in Texas. The bishop also describes his life growing up on a Texas cotton farm in the 1920s, his inspiration to become a priest, and life in the seminary. He talks about the demographic changes he witnessed in his time as priest and bishop in Amarillo as first Mexicans and then Vietnamese migrated to the Texas Panhandle. Finally, he describes his spiritual and intellectual influences, most notably Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.

 
Interview with David Atwood

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David Atwood is an anti-death penalty activist. In Video 1, Atwood describes his involvement with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and his relationships with since-executed Death Row inmates including Richard Jones, Ronald Allridge, James Allridge, Antony Fuentes, Dominique Green or their families, as well as the family of murder victim Andrew Lastrapes. In Videos 2 and 3, Atwood describes an execution and outlines numerous problems with capital punishment. In Video 3, Atwood ascribes the relative silence of the contemporary Catholic Church about the death penalty to generational change: a generation of men who focus narrowly on abortion have replaced Vatican II-era clergy who cared about social justice in broad terms.This interview took place on September 25, 2008 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.

 
Interview with Debra McCammon

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Debra McCammon is the executive director of Hospitality House, a nonprofit ministry of the Texas Baptist Prisoner Family Foundation, providing complimentary temporary lodging, food, and spiritual counsel and witness for visiting families, friends and other guests of those incarcerated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (T.D.C.J.) in the Huntsville area. McCammon has been affiliated with the House since 1989, first as a volunteer and then as a member of the board of directors from 2001 to 2009, before becoming executive director in November 2009. In Video 1, McCammon describes the origins of Hospitality House, its history since its construction in 1986 and the participation of her church in its construction; her role as volunteer and board member; the duties and challenges she has faced as executive director; the procedures for running the House on a typical day; the role of the House on days of scheduled executions; and her experiences with and memories of staff, volunteers and guests of the House. In Video 2, McCammon elaborates on the origins of House, its relationship with local Chaplains; its relationship to T.D.C.J.; her vision of the importance of the House as a source of comfort and refuge for the families of prisoners and her efforts to raise awareness of the mission of the House and the needs of families. McCammon then gives a tour of the House, describing various items, including artwork by inmates and gifts from guests, and noting each room's history, function and significance. Throughout Video 2, McCammon continues to share anecdotes and stories of her experiences working at the House and her commitment to her spiritual mission. In Video 3, McCammon concludes her tour of the House, and shares her appreciation for all the volunteers that help shape and sustain the Hospitality House. This interview took place on July 25, 2011 at the Hospitality House in Huntsville, Walker County, Texas.

 
Interview with Dennis Longmire

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Dennis Longmire is an anti-death penalty activist and a professor of sociology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In Video 1, Longmire discusses his background, his residence in Huntsville, his interest in the death penalty as a topic of research and activism, his first silent vigil outside the Walls Unit and his role in the case of Eric Nenno, including his experience witnessing Nenno's execution on October 28, 2008. In Video 2, Longmire expands on his role in Eric Nenno's case, and discusses the role of religion in his intellectual and activist commitments. In Video 3, Longmire discusses Eric Nenno's trial in more detail, expands on the history of the prison system and executions in Texas, and compares the hospice movement with standing vigil outside the Walls Unit. In Video 4, Longmire discusses his prayer vigils and witnessing in the context of other activist strategies, and talks about the role of the Hospitality House in Huntsville. In Video 5, Longmire elaborates on his experiences standing on the corner outside the Walls Unit during executions, and considers trends in attitudes towards both the death penalty and abolition of the death penalty in Texas. In Video 6, Longmire discusses the wider communal effects of the death penalty on the town of Huntsville, media coverage of executions, and the interactions between families of the executed and families of murder victims. This interview took place on October 29, 2008 in Huntsville, Walker County, Texas.

 
Interview with Gloria Rubac

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Gloria Rubac, a retired teacher and writer, has been a committed civil rights, prison and death penalty activist since the early 1970s. In Tape 1, Rubac discusses the inspiration for her early activism; her introduction to prison activism in the 1970s; and her growing involvement in protests against the death penalty in the 1980s after its reinstatement in Texas in 1976. Rubac then describes her friendships with and advocacy on behalf of numerous death row inmates since 1982. At the end of Tape 1 and the beginning of Tape 2, Rubac describes her role in the founding of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, her current involvement in the group Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, and the differences between the two groups. In the rest of Tape 2, Rubac reflects on her presence in Huntsville during executions; witnessing executions; attending funerals for executed friends; and her activist strategies and commitments. This interview took place on June 19, 2009 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.

 
Interview with Jeff Hood

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Reverend Jeff Hood is a Southern Baptist preacher and death penalty activist living in Denton, Texas. Hood is a theologian educated at Auburn University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. At the time of the interview Hood had just completed a two hundred mile pilgrimage between the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas and the Texas State Capitol in Austin. In Tape 1, Rev. Hood describes his evangelical upbringing in Atlanta, Georgia, moving through his education as a theologian and later a preacher. He gives a look into the slow changes that took place during those early years and how he came to death penalty activism after the conviction of Troy Davis for the murder of a police officer in 1989. Hood recounts how he came to adopt a philosophy of love and acceptance, moving from what he describes as “t-shirt activism” to working with the TCADP, corresponding and visiting inmates on death row. He concludes by giving an account of his two-hundred mile walk from Livingston to Austin; giving insight into the sort of people he met along the way; the fear and physical exhaustion he faced; and the journey’s conclusion in front of the Texas State Capitol building. This interview took place on June 20, 2014 at the Texas After Violence Office in Austin, Texas.

Interview with Jennifer Pumphrey

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Jennifer Pumphrey is a formerly incarcerated advocate and a member of Texas Advocates for Justice. Ms. Pumphrey was first incarcerated at the age of eighteen after taking a drug charge for her boyfriend. With the help of the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment program, Ms. Pumphrey has been in recovery since her incarceration. Ms. Pumphrey was interviewed by Lauren Johnson on March 29, 2018, at Ms. Pumphrey’s home in Austin, Travis County, Texas.

 
Interview with Joe Lawless

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Father Joe Lawless has spent most of his professional career as a Catholic priest. In Video 1, Father Lawless recalls serving in the United States military during WWII, including fighting in Dachau, Germany. He also discusses his life after WWII, including his enrollment at the University of Georgia, and his introduction to Catholic teachings at the Blessed Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts. Father Lawless then speaks about his responsibilities as a Catholic priest serving in different communities around the United States, including Compton, California, New Braunfels, Texas and Corpus Christi, Texas. At the end of Video 1 and in Video 2, Father Lawless discusses his work within the jail ministry and reflects on what he considers the repression of truth within various sectors of society. This interview took place on July 30, 2008 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas.

 
Interview with Kristin Houlé

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Kristin Houlé has been serving as the executive director of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) since December 2008 and is the organization’s first executive director. In Tape 1, Houlé describes her background, including her years living in Kentucky and Arkansas; her growing consciousness of the death penalty; her development as a civil rights and human rights activist; her involvement in the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Amnesty International’s program to abolish the death penalty based in Washington, DC, and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty beginning in March 2007. In Tape 1, Houlé also shares her thoughts on the demographics of social movements; the place of activism in her life; her experience at vigils on the day of executions; her reflections on the prominence of the death penalty in Texas and shifting attitudes towards the practice. In Tape 2, Houlé discusses some of the factors affecting the public’s perception of the death penalty, including the option of life in prison without parole (LWOP), cases of innocence and exoneration, and the cost of the death penalty; Houlé ends with her vision of the abolition of the death penalty nationally. This interview took place on February 2, 2009 at the TCADP office in Austin, Travis County, Texas.

Interview with Lauren Johnson

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Lauren Johnson is an advocate for incarcerated people who was formerly incarcerated by the state of Texas. In her interview, Johnson discusses the poverty of her childhood, and how drugs and abuse impacted her adolescence. Johnson gave birth while incarcerated, and describes her experience of pregnancy and childbirth while in prison custody. Finally, Johnson reflects on her advocacy work and discusses her vision of a just society. This interview took place in the Texas After Violence Project office in Austin, Texas, on June 9, 2017.

 
Interview with Melanie Young

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Melanie Young is the sister of Vincent Young, who died while in the custody of Harris County Jail on February 13, 2017. Melanie has been actively trying to get answers from jail and county officials about the circumstances surrounding Vincent’s death. Through the family’s “Justice for Vido” campaign, they have organized several rallies and protests in the ongoing quest for truth and justice. Melanie discusses growing up with Vincent, his impact on their community as an adult, his death, and finally her experiences trying to find truth. This interview took place at the home of Cinitra Resby in Houston, Harris County, Texas, on September 16, 2017. Melanie’s cousin, Cinitra Resby, also appears in this interview.

Interview with Mignon Zezqueaux

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Mignon Zezqueaux is the mother of three boys, Solomon, Joseph, and Ghabriel. In her interview, Mignon speaks about the 2008 murder of her son Solomon and how his death affected her, Joseph, and Ghabriel. She speaks particularly about its impact on Ghabriel, who was introduced into the juvenile justice system shortly after the loss of his brother, and is now incarcerated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Mignon details their interactions with law enforcement, the court system, and the prison system, with a specific focus on mental health in the criminal justice system. She explains how those experiences inspired and inform her work as a criminal justice activist and member of the Texas Advocates for Justice. This interview took place on April 15, 2018, in Houston, Harris County, Texas at the home of John Taylor.

 
Interview with Mr. Jorge Antonio Renaud

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Mr. Renaud is an activist, poet, and the author of Behind the Walls: A Guide for Families and Friends of Texas Prison Inmates," based on his time spent in prison. In part one of his interview he discusses the life experiences that led him to prison, his time in prison, and the unique culture that develops within prisons. He also explains how he gained experience writing in prison and getting an education while incarcerated. In part 2, he continues his story, highlighting particularly the effects of Ruiz v. Estelle, a landmark Supreme Court case on prison conditions, in 1980. In part 3, he reads some of his poetry and discusses his writing career.

Interview with Mr. Rudolph Williams

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Rudolph Williams is a community activist against police brutality in Austin Texas. In Video 1, he talks about growing up in a community where he witnessed a lot of tension and brutality with the Police Department. He began community organizing when he joined the fight against gentrification of the Blacklands at UT Austin while he was in college. He talks about Sophia King and the problems that arise when mentally ill citizens come in contact with police. He talked about working with neighborhood associations across Austin to advocate for a change in APD’s use of force policy. He also talks about his hope that the APD moves away from the “reasonable officer standard” to the “preservation of life standard” which he believes would save the lives of many minority victims of police shootings. In Video 2, he discusses problems with recruiting police officers from the outside. He then discusses a personal incident in which a police officer pulled him over and accused him of drinking and smoking marijuana and put him in handcuffs for not turning on his car lights in time. He then discusses Houston’s push for a more diverse police force and how he sees their efforts as relatively successful. He goes on to discuss the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and how their leadership has helped them be a more open-minded law enforcement agency. He discusses the leadership of the APD and the Sheriff’s department. He discusses regional policing and the different tactics employed in East and West Austin and differences in cities such as Houston and Dallas. He talks about how the burden to come up with solutions to police problems seems to lie on the citizens, not political officials. He discusses the “short-term memory elected officials and bureaucrats” and the “long-term memory of the community” and how to reconcile that. He talks about despair and refusal to take responsibility. He also talks about community police relations. He concludes by expanding on other problems he sees with police community relations including charging fees and criminalizing poverty. In Video 3, he talks briefly about his mom and what fighting for freedom looks like and means. This interview took place on July 20, 2011 at Rudolph Williams’ home in Austin, Travis County, Texas.

Interview with Ms. Jude Filler

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Jude Filler is a human rights advocate who spent over twenty years working and building relationships with prisoners on Death Row in Texas. In Tape 1, she discusses why she moved to Texas and joined Amnesty International; describes how she first became involved with Death Row prisoners and shares how her friendship with Death Row prisoner David Powell began. In Tape 2, Filler explains Powell’s methamphetamine addiction; the incident that put him on death row; discusses her work with murder victims; details her health issues and cancer and describes her experience witnessing Powell’s execution. In Tape 3, Filler relates her experience healing after Powell’s execution; shares memories of Powell’s time in prison; describes the sense of community on Death Row, then expounds on the poor conditions in the prison. In Tape 4, she explores Powell’s relationship with spirituality and religion; explains her position on the death penalty; describes corruption and injustice in the justice system; her experience with Powell’s trials and attorneys and then discusses the beginning of her relationship with David’s former cellmate, James Beathard. In Tape 5, Filler continues to describe her relationship with Beathard; explains the incident that put Beathard on Death Row; explains her career path and the toll Death Row work took on her; reacts to public opinion on the death penalty and describes why the death penalty is particularly difficult to change in Texas. In Tape 6, Filler discusses the role of fear in politics; describes the death penalty as a linchpin for moving toward justice in other areas of human rights; recounts stories of injustice suffered by Death Row inmates in Texas and describes her struggles trying to create change in the Texas justice system. These interviews took place on November 19 and 26 of 2010 in Jude Filler’s home in Austin, Texas, Travis County.

 
Interview with Rais Bhuiyan

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Rais Bhuiyan is an immigrant who moved to the United States from Bangladesh in 1999 for school. On September 21st, 2001, one week after the attacks on 9/11, he was shot in the face by Mark Stroman as part of a string of shootings Stroman claimed were revenge for the 9/11 attacks. Bhuiyan was the only survivor. Stroman received the death penalty and was on Death Row for eleven years. During the last years of Stroman’s life, Bhuiyan was a vocal opponent of the death penalty and headed a campaign to save Mark Stroman from execution. In tape 1, Bhuiyan discusses his life in Bangladesh and experiences in military school. In tape 2, he discusses joining the Bangladesh Air Force, meeting his fiancée, and the process of applying for a visa to come to the United States to study. In Tape 3, Bhuiyan talks about traveling from Bangladesh to the United States, his life in New York and then in Dallas, and describes what it was like working in a gas station. In tape 4, Bhuiyan describes the shooting incident and its immediate impact on his life as he sought medical care and support during recovery. In tape 5, Bhuiyan discusses the trial, overcoming his fear of people who looked like Mark Stroman, and his 2009 pilgrimage to Mecca. In Tape 6, Bhuiyan discusses his campaign to save Mark Stroman, his desire for a reconciliation meeting Stroman, and the phone conversation they had just before Stroman was executed. In Tape 7, Bhuiyan discusses forgiveness and overcoming ignorance. In tape 8, Bhuiyan discusses his relationship with Mark Stroman’s family. This interview was filmed on April 26th and 27th, 2013, at Rais Bhuiyan’s home in Dallas, Texas.

 
Interview with Ray Hill

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Ray Hill is a prison activist and queer activist as well as the founder of The Prison Show, a radio program that has aired weekly on Houston's Pacifica radio station KPFT 90.1 FM since March 1980. In Video 1, Hill shares the inspiration for his early activism; his experiences during his incarceration in the Texas prison system; and his work as a community organizer. Hill describes how he helped to organize the Houston Gay Caucus, now known as the Houston Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Political Caucus, as well as his role in founding The Kaposi's Sarcoma Committee, which later became The KS/AIDS Foundation and is now The AIDS Foundation Houston. At the end of Video 1 and the beginning of Video 2, Hill discusses the origins of The Prison Show; his activism in prison reform, including his role in the creation of the program Gang Rejection and Disassociation (GRAD); and his perceptions of the criminal justice system. This interview took place on October 5th, 2010 at the offices of KPFT FM in Houston, Harris County, Texas.