Last Friday, I got together for an orientation session with Rebecca Lorins, Acting Director of the Texas After Violence Project, and six fantastic undergraduate interns recruited from UT-Austin’s Bridging Disciplines Programs. Although several of the students had already gotten started on transcription tasks, the two-hour orientation gave everyone a chance to meet each other and set goals for our semester-long project to process a series of TAVP interviews and archive them at the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative. Here’s our super team! From left to right: Blair Robbins, Jordan Weber, Charlotte Nunes, Jessica Rubio, Lillie Leone, Tu-Uyen Nguyen, and Sharla Biefeld.
Rebecca took the lead during the orientation, offering students excellent background on the history and identity of the TAVP as well as the history of the death penalty in Texas. She also offered helpful remarks on oral history theory and practice. I facilitated discussion of two pertinent readings Rebecca selected for the occasion: “What’s Messing With Texas Death Sentences?” by David McCord and “What is a ‘Good’ Interview?” by Ronald Grele.
The interns asked great questions and engaged closely with the readings in discussion. Several of them made insightful points about how the readings related to their TAVP experience thus far. For example, Jordan and Sharla talked about how the overall decline in executions in Texas in recent years figures in some of the oral histories they are transcribing. Their comments led to a dynamic discussion about how individual’s personal stories relate to structural developments in law and policy.
Now that the students are off and running on auditing, transcription, and formatting processes, Jessica Rubio kindly gave me permission to share her reflections on the early days of her internship. Jessica’s eloquent reflections provide insights into the technical aspects of the auditing process as well as the profound emotional experiences that sometimes attend this process:
“The most relatable way to describe the first week of my TAVP internship is by calling it a whirlwind of emotions; I began the week flooded with excitement and anticipation of what was soon to come and ended the week bewildered by what I’d seen and heard. My first task was listening to and auditing the transcription of an interview with Derrek Brooks, a son of the first man killed by lethal injection in the United States. Throughout the interview I found myself constantly pausing the audio to fully absorb whatever I’d just heard. I came into the story a complete stranger and found that every new piece of information seemed to be more important or more crucial than the last.
Listening to Derrek’s story was like meeting a stranger at a party and playing audience to a first-hand account of their life from beginning to end; at the onset the only thing you know will happen is that there will be ups and downs in their story along the way. Even though I was expecting the ups and downs of Derrek’s story I found that each dip and rise of this rollercoaster was more profound than I had expected. I directly felt Derrek’s emotions throughout, from the obvious pain he feels due to an absent father to the eagerness in his voice to tell of what he feels to be an injustice and his goal to exonerate his father posthumously.
While auditing Derrek’s interview was certainly a monumental task to step off with, I’m certainly glad my introduction to this internship didn’t play out any other way. I really believe that delving in so deep so quickly instantly opened my eyes to what to expect out of this internship and also what all this process entails. I feel that every task from here on – large or small – I’ll be prepared for. I’m glad I had this base to jump from because I now fully see just how this work effects those both directly and indirectly involved.”