Diana Claitor: Stories from Texas county jails

Diana Claitor of the Texas Jail Project participated in the fall workshop series, “Listen for a Change: Oral History and Social Justice” presented by ADAPT of Texas and Wire Cutter. Layla Fry and Shannon Elizondo, other workshop participants, conducted this short interview of Diana as part of the training. Read Diana’s interview for ideas on how you, too, might want to use oral history for social change.

Virginia Raymond transcribed this interview and shared it with Diana, who made some corrections and clarifications. These corrections are not marked within this transcript. (At a future workshop, we can discuss under what conditions, why, and how you might decide to mark or not mark narrator post-interview changes.)

By the way, check out Diana’s recent cover story for The Texas Observer, “Babysteps: Can Texas’ new approach to prisoners with newborns help keep families together?” Read the story in the actual paper Observer (!), at the Observer website, or at the website of the Texas Jail Project. Congratulations, Diana, and thank you for your ongoing work on behalf of all inmates, especially pregnant inmates and inmates in need of medical attention.

Thank you Diana, Layla, and Shannon, for this interview! Maybe it was “just a training exercise” to you, but I learned a lot!

Copyright Diana Claitor 2011 Used with permission

Read the entire Diana Claitor interview here.

Heiwa Salovitz: Why oral history matters, an interview by Erica Suprenant and Shannon Elizondo

“What brings me to oral history? Well as a person with a disability — I’ve had my disability all my life — people with disabilities tend to be seen as the invisible people. We tend not to document their stories; we tend not to listen to them; we tend not to think their lives are interesting. So that’s what brings me to oral history, ’cause I want people to learn about my story. I want to learn about theirs, and so we can see the commonality in the struggle, because we all have struggle. We all have things we can learn from each other, things we can contribute to society, and hopefully change society for the better.

“And it’s just interesting to hear different people’s perspectives on their life and their world experiences.”

– Heiwa Salovitz, October 11, 2011. Mr. Salovitz is a member of ADAPT of Texas

Copyright 2011 Heiwa Salovitz Used with permission

Read the entire Heiwa Salovitz interview here

Welcome new oral history & social justice participants…

The challenge of starting a new project is that it takes a while to get the word out; the happy news is that as people find out what is happening, participation grows. In the last couple of weeks several new people have joined the Listen for a change: oral history & social justice workshop. Welcome three new participants from ADAPT: Travis Hoelscher, Eric Clow, and Heiwa Salowitz; as well as Cynthia Waide of Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, Shannon Elizondo, journalist Lindsay Patterson, and Sandy Graham of the Texas Center for Disability Studies.

The challenging news is that my carefully designed syllabus is no longer evident (we recap what we’ve been doing each week, as though we’d planned a “drop in anytime” series); the happy news is that each week we’re invigorated with new energy and ideas. And who ever believed that learning was a linear process, anyway?

It’s so interesting to see the (unplanned) overlap and commonalities in interests. Heiwa has worked in prisoner rights issues, while Diana Claitor and Erica Surprenant work to reform Texas county jails. Both Rocío Villalobos and Matthew Gossage are advocates for immigrants incarcerated in the former federal prison in Hutto. Rachel Szemborski, graduate student in the UT School of Social Work, interns this semester with the Texas Civil Rights Project to assist immigrant survivors of domestic violence obtain legal permanent residence (and ultimately U.S. citizenship). Under provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), people who have been abused by U.S.citizen or legal permanent resident spouses or partners, may seek immigration relief independent of the partners or spouses who’ve abused them, threatening that reporting the abuse would result in exposure, separation from children, and deportation. Immigrants, at least those from Mexico and Central America, and their advocates understand the connection between economic devastation in their home countries and immigration for survival. That’s why it makes so much sense for our group to make common cause with Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, which works with Mexican women labor activists.

Heiwa explained this week that he’d often felt frustrated that other ostensible social justice activists failed to see the connection between, for instance, prisoners’ rights and those of people with disabilities, many of whom also long for freedom outside of institutions. Even at ADAPT, with all its expertise in disability, we are learning about how to make the workshop more accessible and inclusive by attending to the needs of people with chemical sensitivities (see earlier posts).

The beauty of this workshop series is that as we learn and share skills, we’re also learning about discrete but intimately connected aspects of social justice. Just being in the same big room together (thank you, ADAPT!), we’re breaking down barriers.

We share the air (please be considerate)

(a reminder…)

To prevent HARM to people who suffer from MULTIPLE CHEMICAL SENSITIVITIES, we ask that you REFRAIN from the use of scented products.

PLEASE DO NOT USE SCENTED deodorant, aftershave, hair products, cologne, shampoo, body lotions, soap, FABRIC SOFTENER, DRYER SHEETS laundry detergent or other scented personal care and cleaning products as they release chemicals WHICH HARM people and other living things….

The above message came to me as a pretty flyer from our friend, colleague, and teacher Luz Guerra…I don’t yet know how to upload PDFs to Wire Cutter so for now I’ve just copied the text.

Thank you for helping to make our workshops on oral history & social justice safe for & accessible to people with chemical sensitivities.

Attention: Participants in Listen for a Change: Oral History & Social Justice

Hello everyone,

A reminder that we will gather for workshop session #4 tonight again at ADAPT. We will look at the brief videotaped interviews from last week (those that people did not ask us to delete, of course), reflect together on the process and what might be more effective practices, and discuss the suggestions for effective oral history practices on this website (under “Listen”). Depending on time and people’s preferences, we also may look at some additional oral history videos.

Next week, we will interrupt our own workshop series to listen to men who were once sentenced to death, but later exonerated and are now free and working with Witness to Innocence. The following announcement of the event comes from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

“On Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 7:00 PM, the First United Methodist Church’s Family Life Center (1201 Lavaca Street) will host death row exonorees Ron Keine, Greg Wilhoit, Dan Bright, and Albert Burrell from Witness to Innocence. Witness to Innocence is the nation’s only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones.

“This event is sponsored by the UMC General Board of Church and Society, the Austin District, and local Methodist churches. It is part of the ‘Texas Witness to Innocence Freedom Ride.’ For more information, please contact Kathy Barrett at kbarretttx@aol.com.”

Thank you to “Listen for a Change: Oral History and Social Justice” participant Ayla Pintchovski for reminding me of this potential conflict and suggesting that workshop participants attend the Witness to Innocence presentations.

Taking the time for Witness to Innocence means that we will extend the workshop series for a week. Just to be clear:

Tuesday, October 11 – at ADAPT, 5:30
Tuesday, October 18 – First United Methodist Church for Witness to Innocence, 7 pm
Tuesday, October 25 through Tuesday, November 22 at ADAPT again, 5:30 pm

thanks!

Photos from our first oral history & social justice workshop

Erica Suprenant and Diana Claitor of the Texas Jail Project; Ayla Pintchovski and Rocío Villalobos; and Luz Guerra, Rebekah Skelton, and Stephanie Thomas on 20 September, 2011, at the first Listen for a change: oral history & social justice workshop.

Copyright 2011 Virginia Raymond
Photographs used with permission of those pictured