Holà. My name is Jorge Antonio Renaud, and I am the newest member of the team dedicated to amplifying the voices and possibilities of men and women caged in American prisons.
I lived in those cages for 27 years and am in thrall to the state of Texas until 2052. I used to believe that going to prison was solely a result of irresponsible choices birthed in greed and poor impulse control, that perhaps all I needed to do was live more simply and put my nickels away and all would be well. But then I read Foucault and Freire and Galeano.
I realized that oppression is only possible with the consent of the oppressed, and I awoke.
When I was in prison, I almost convinced myself that the voices of the incarcerated mattered – especially when it came to policies that had direct impact on those sentenced to prison, those living a caged life separated from their loved ones, and those returning to society. I had no real conception of the corporations hungry for American jails and prison, feasting from our families’ pain and the trauma of incarceration. I had not truly connected the dots between profiling, police (in)discretion, zero tolerance and the astonishing growth of the prison population as profit, not people.
I learned. After my parole in 2008, I enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin to pursue an MSSW. I began a journey that has brought me here, to the company of like-minded individuals who understand the intersections of poverty, racism, and incarceration that intentionally sentence entire communities to be locked away from ever achieving the American dream. Who believe that no movement to free the oppressed has validity without their participation, input, and most importantly their leadership.
I am humbled to be here. I have seen what incarceration does to communities — to families — because I lived it. I am organizing to end this cycle of government sanctioned violence and trauma. I am organizing for the liberation of the millions of people under the thumb of the criminal justice system.
Lastly, I want to express thanks to those who tugged and pushed and lifted me along the way.
To the Texas After Violence Project, which offered me a job in Austin to help chronicle the despairing voices of everyone ensnared in the Texas capital punishment quagmire.
To the professors and mentors at the University of Texas School of Social Work, who gave discipline, structure, theoretical foundation, and legitimacy to the ideas that bounced around my skull.
To Southwest Key, Grassroots Leadership, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, all of whom offered me internships and deep friendships.
To Virginia Marie Rincon, Maria Limon, Susanne Mason, Opie, and Pingo, who took me in and gave me more cariño y esparanza than any man can hope to receive.
For Laura Smith, Lauren Johnson, Jill Hubley, Sarah Binion, and Jaynna Sims, who walked with me through the darkest 90 days of my life. To Sandra Olarte-Hayes, who has offered me light, hope, and laughter without measure. And finally, to Ana Yañez-Correa and the people at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, who showed belief, trust, and love in me in a measure I would not have believed possible.
You put your organization’s money where its mouth is, extended the opportunity for me to push legislation that would affect others like me to change policy. Thank you for supporting a voice that I, and we, have not had before in Texas.
Adelante. Siempre, adelante.
Jorge Antonio Renaud