Texas After Violence Project Oral Histories

Texas After Violence Project Oral Histories

Jane Field, Project Coordinator and Digital Archivist, Texas After Violence Project

Ten years ago, the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) conducted its first official interview with Ireland Beazley, whose son, Napoleon, was executed by the State of Texas for a crime he committed as a minor. Like our interview with Ireland, many of our early oral histories focused nearly exclusively on those who were affected by capital punishment, but we have since expanded our areas of research to more effectively explore the widespread impacts of interpersonal and state violence on individuals, families, and communities in Texas. The TAVP collection now includes over a hundred and fifty interviews, many of which are housed online at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI), our archival partner at the University of Texas at Austin.  

In 2017, TAVP teamed up with the Texas Justice Initiative (a data project that tracks custodial deaths in Texas) to conduct oral history interviews documenting stories of loss and survival in Texas's criminal justice system. The project, called Life and Death in a Carceral State, resulted in several powerful interviews with individuals recounting their experiences of loss, grief, and healing in the wake of their loved ones' deaths in police, jail, or prison custody. We also heard stories from formerly incarcerated people, who spoke to us about their experiences of confinement and life after prison.  These audio-visual interviews and their transcripts were recently added to our online collection at HRDI.

Melanie Young

There, you can listen as Melanie Young (above) talks about the death of her brother, Vincent Young, in the Harris County Jail, and the difficulty her family has faced as they try to find information about what happened to him.  She describes the rallies she's organized to draw the attention of those who could provide answers, but so far have not, and tells us, "We're not going to stop marching, we're not going to stop rallying until something is done. And if us rallying and marching is a circus show to you, then I'm sorry. But to us, this is personal. This is the most painful thing that I've had to go through. And all I can do is fight."

We believe stories like Melanie’s teach us timely lessons about the real impacts of criminal justice policies and practices, and so we are working on a short film to highlight the interviews we conducted as part of this project, and we will continue to document stories of custodial deaths in Texas throughout 2018.  We will also expand on our interviews about incarceration and life after prison, thanks to a generous grant from the Open Philanthropy Foundation. With this funding, we'll train members of Texas Advocates for Justice (an action network of those directly impacted by incarceration) to research and conduct oral histories, then collaborate with them as they go into their communities to collect interviews with people who have experienced long-term incarceration. To learn more about this upcoming project, and stay informed as it gets underway, please sign up for our newsletter by visiting our website, www.texasafterviolence.org.