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


Return to TAVP Main Page

Interview with Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen

Video 1 of 4

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

Video 1 of 3

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

Video 1 of 3

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 Gloria Rubac

Video 1 of 2

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

Video 1 of 1

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 Joe Lawless

Video 1 of 2

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 Houle

Video 1 of 2

Kristin Houle 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, Houle 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, Houle 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, Houle 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; Houle 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 Mr. Jorge Antonio Renaud

Video 1 of 3

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

Video 1 of 3

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

Video 1 of 6

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

Video 1 of 8

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

Video 1 of 3

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.

Interview with Richard Daly

Video 1 of 3

Brother Richard Daly went to work for the Texas Catholic Conference, the legislative advocacy group representing Catholic bishops, in 1974. In Video 1, Brother Daly talks about his work against the death penalty and for prison reform, work largely inspired by Pauline and Charlie Sullivan who founded Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). By the end of the 1970s, the Catholic bishops of Texas came out against the death penalty and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (now the National Conference of Bishops) publized a statement against the death penalty shortly thereafter. Brother Daly also describes his visits to Death Row, prison ministries, Father, and later Bishop, McCarthy, and the legislative positions of the Texas Catholic Conference. In Video 2, Brother Daly describes the organizing and activism by the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the Texas Farm Workers Union (TFWU), César Chávez, and human rights-oriented priests and bishops, most especially that of late Archbishop Patricio Flores of San Antonio. In Video 3, Brother Daly returns to a discussion about the death penalty; shares his admiration for the late Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago Joseph Bernadin; and discusses contradictions with the Catholic Church, including the Church's relationship to a variety of social justice issues. This interview took place on May 1, 2009 at St. Edward's University in Austin, Travis County, Texas.

Interview with Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean is a nun and author of the novel Dead Man Walking. Sister Prejean came to Texas in 1997 to be a spiritual advisor for Cathy Henderson, a woman who was on death row. On Tape 1 Sister Prejean discusses her experiences meeting people on death row and the various roles storytelling takes on in her work. She notes the importance of books, and stories, by sharing the process of writing Dead Man Walking during an era in which the death penalty was largely unquestioned. On Tape 2 Sister Prejean spends time reflecting on her numerous advocacy projects, the importance of storytelling, and listening. This interview took place on December 3rd, 2013 in Austin, Texas.

Interview with Steve Hall

Video 1 of 3

Steve Hall is the director of StandDown Texas Project, which advocates "a moratorium on executions and a state-sponsored review of Texas' application of the death penalty." In Video 1, Hall describes the renewal of capital punishment in Texas, which he facilitated and witnessed in his capacity as Chief of Staff for Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox from 1983 to 1991. Texas executed thirty-six people during this period. Hall also draws on his experience, between 1993 and 1996, working for the Texas Resource Center, which was charged with both directly representing and recruiting pro bono lawyers to represent inmates on death row. In Video 2, Hall continues to discuss major issues in death penalty jurisprudence and politics. In Video 3, Hall identifies signs that the death penalty may be disappearing. This interview took place on January 28 and February 4, 2009 in Austin, Travis County, Texas.

Interview with Tarsha Jackson

Video 1 of 3

Tarsha Jackson is a community activist for incarcerated juveniles and their families, stemming from her experience as the mother of a mentally ill son who was incarcerated in the Texas juvenile justice system from ages eleven to sixteen for minor offenses. In Tape 1, Jackson discusses her early life and raising children as a young single mother; how her elder son first became involved in the juvenile justice system; describes challenges seeking access to mental health care within the system; details a violent altercation between her son and detention guards; and explains how her advocacy began with education reform for the juvenile justice system. In Tape 2, Jackson discusses her son’s release from the Texas Youth Commission (TYC); explains her strategies for keeping her younger son out of the system; how the juvenile justice system impacts families; how policing and the education system create a school-to-prison pipeline; details her work with the Black-Brown organization and the Texas Reconciliation project. In Tape 3, Jackson elaborates on issues of overcrowding in Texas prisons and the importance of family visits for the incarcerated; describes how she discovered and managed her son’s mental illness; and how her son’s incarceration impacted her personally. This interview took place on May 19, 2011 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.

Interview with William Petty

Video 1 of 3

At the time of this interview in November 2009, Dr. William Petty was head of Victims Services at the Austin Police Department in Austin, Texas. In Video 1 of this interview, Petty describes how he came to work in Victims Services and the difference between what counselors can do during a crisis or tragedy as opposed to months or years after the fact. They can offer resources and also -- more importantly -- what Petty calls "a ministry of presence." Petty also talks being a Black man working for an institution that he, and many other Black people, have had strong reasons to distrust and stay away from. He discusses, as well, self care and changes that have taken place in policing and victims services. Video 2 includes a discussion of what happened among people who found themselves at the Austin Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In Video 3, Petty talks both about being an advocate for victims for marginalized people as well the pressures on police officers, chief among these being attitudes of the public and accusations of misconduct, and the stigma associated with seeking help.