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New leadership at TJP!

Jul 8th, 2020 | Category: TJP Newsletter, TJP Updates

Co-founder Krish Gundu transitioned into the role of executive director this month, and Dalila Reynoso has joined us as community advocate and organizer!

As part of Project Orange, Krish registered voters inside Harris County Jail in January & February of this year.

Krish Gundu has been a part of Texas Jail Project since co-founding it with three other women in 2006, and as of July, 2020, she has moved into the position of executive director.

“That couldn’t be better news for our organization and for the people incarcerated in Texas county jails,” says Diana Claitor, co-founder and longtime ED, now transitioning into the role of communications director.

In the past three years, Krish has been both a board member and staffer. Her energy and knowledge of the issues around county jails and the confinement of people in Texas county jails is invaluable. She is rapidly expanding our networks by establishing collaborations with groups like Doctors for Change and by participating in the Collaborative Council for TX Judicial Commission on Mental Health and work groups for the Texas Coordinating Council for Veteran Services and the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

Just as importantly, Krish has a unique ability to communicate and partner with those in small and large communities across Texas. Her history of advocacy includes working at the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal 2002-2004 prior to which she volunteered as a community health field worker and researcher among communities affected by the 1984 deadly gas leak from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India. She is also a co-founder of t.e.j.a.s barrios – an environmental health and justice non-profit that works in the fence line communities bordering the Ship Channel and chemical refineries in Houston.

“A pandemic is simultaneously a strange and a natural time for this big change at TJP. I am both honored and intimidated to step into a role which allows me to bear witness from close quarters—the daily effects of the justice, health and mental health systems on the most vulnerable among us. I hope that my years of environmental health and grassroots activism will help me guide Texas Jail Project so we may continue to serve those who need us most.”

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TJP is proud to welcome Dalila Reynosa as Community Advocate and Organizer, thanks to a new “In Our Backyards” grant from the Vera Institute for Justice. Dalila, who is bilingual, had been advocating for immigration rights in Tyler and Smith County for the past four years. Visits to the jail and conversations with the Smith County sheriff awakened her to the reality of others struggling to survive within the criminal justice system: those experiencing mental illness while stuck inside the county jail, without medication or care.

She reached out to TJP. When Krish called her back, Dalila was surprised since she had left messages with others and never heard back. Dalila’s regular speeches before the County Commissioners weekly meeting impressed Krish, and they began to collaborate and expand Dalila’s contributions, bringing stories about people incarcerated during the COVID pandemic without proper care, people who could be awaiting trial at home if it weren’t for cash bail. At the June 30th meeting, Dalila spoke to the commissioners about a recent death.

“41.93% of our jail population is pretrial, that is, they have not yet been convicted and most of them could be released if they were able to afford their bond. So what happens when you are too poor to pay bail?” Dalila asked commissioners. “In the case of Mr. Tommy Gene Lindsey who was found unresponsive [in the jail] on Saturday, June 20th  It turned into a death sentence.”

After Krish spoke to the journalist Maurice Chammah about Dalila’s work and relationships in the community, he interviewed both Dalila and Krish for a new feature, “Their Unlikely Alliance Began in a Whataburger.Can They Reform a Texas Jail?” published online in The Marshall Project, Texas Monthly and NBC News.

“She was already a local activist, but COVID-19 and the threat it poses to vulnerable people in prisons and jails has turned her into a full-blown citizen watchdog,” writes Chammah.

Even better, Dalila is a catalyst—showing others in East Texas how they can partner with advocacy groups to challenge the status quo, and at the same time, make their voices heard on behalf of their own communities.

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