I interned with the Texas After Violence Project. This was an enriching experience because it enabled me to attend and conduct interviews with informants of a specific cultural group, those affected by the death penalty. The Texas After Violence Project is a grassroots, non-profit organization founded in 2007 that focuses on gathering the oral histories of those who have personally, or have a loved one who has, experienced violence in the form of murder or the death penalty. The organization is not an active participant in advocating for change in the judicial, prison, or legal systems in Texas. Its purpose is to document personal experiences with violence and use them for educational purposes. Currently the interviews that have been conducted and released by the interviewed individual are posted on the organization’s website, www.texasafterviolence.org, and through the Human Rights Documentation Initiative with the University of Texas in Austin.
In my first week with the Texas After Violence Project I felt that I dove in head first, for better or for worse. Falling into my position as intern in this haphazard fashion gave me a better taste of the way the organization works than I would have gained through a slow initiation, though. Both the other volunteers and the paid employees are deeply involved in and passionate about their work. They all seemed to be working on several projects simultaneously, and constantly thinking of and beginning new endeavors.
During my time with the organization I transcribed several interviews, acted as videographer for several interviews, conducted an interview, identified an interview candidate, attended a number of meetings, assisted in the distribution and then organization of surveys sent and received, and created a podcast.
I scoured previous interviews for related topics of particular interest, such as cases involving mental illness, juveniles, mistrials, etc., compiled audio clips from these, and created web broadcasts to be posted on the TAVP blog and on iTunes. My hope is that this will create an accessible, organized method for publicizing the research and interviews we’ve gathered.
I transcribed an interview with the leader of an organization fighting to abolish the death penalty, discussed possible interview candidates with other team members, researched several death penalty cases of different interest to the organization, and discussed a previous interview with a D.A. associated with several capital offense cases and scheduled a follow up for a future date.
I had the opportunity to attend my first interview as videographer in June. Maurice Chammah conducted the interview. We heard the story of a defense attorney that worked a highly publicized case several years ago involving mental insanity. We spent a total of 3 hours in their office, and Maurice only spoke a few times. His typical remark was something like: “You mentioned _____, would you mind sharing more details on that?” It was very much their story, rather than a question and answer style interview.
I had the chance to conduct an interview at the beginning of July with the founder of the TAVP. He hadn’t been interviewed previously, and practiced as a defense attorney for many years before joining the organization. He represented an individual whose case I was featuring in a podcast, and I felt that there were some legal issues that needed clarification from the trial and appeal process. His legal explanations were a very informative supplement to the materials I have already gathered.
In addition to invaluable experience and training in ethnographic research and key informant interviewing, I attended several training sessions for software programs and ethical issues with gathering oral histories with the rest of the organization’s staff and volunteers. I gained valuable knowledge on the software program used to upload and edit video and audio recordings of our interviews.
My time with the TAVP was a great experience. I can’t imagine many other situations in which an anthropology student working on their bachelor’s degree can gain applied experience with cultural anthropological methodology and ethnography. I feel extremely lucky to have worked with the highly intelligent people that I did and to now have them as connections after I graduate and either begin looking for a job or pursue a master’s degree.