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Kevin Garrett at Texas Jail Project

Jan 29th, 2021 | Category: TJP Newsletter

Having experienced homelessness and incarceration, Kevin Garrett put himself through college and law school, and in 2018, received a Hogg Foundation fellowship to work at our small nonprofit in Austin. His role as peer policy fellow changed his trajectory while helping transform Texas Jail Project into a more versatile and inclusive organization.

Kevin described challenges for families dealing with substance abuse disorder from the perspective of lived experience at the 2019 Central Texas African American Family Support Conference.

When Kevin Garrett came to Austin in 2018 as the recipient of a peer policy fellowship from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, our two-person staff was certain that Kevin’s lived experience would expand our capacity. And in our two-and-a-half year journey with him, that has proved to be true — opening doors for Texas Jail Project  in much the way that we opened doors for Kevin.

At Texas Jail Project (TJP), we respond to people incarcerated in county jails, most often through families who reach out for help for loved ones, especially those with medical or mental illness. Our advocacy requires communicating with mental health advocates, clinical and legal practitioners, judges and law enforcement personnel, as well as the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). Other aspects of our work involve empowering local communities through a robust social media presence, and at the same time, collecting and disseminating people’s stories, to the legislature, agencies, and media.

Co-founder and former executive director Diana Claitor (left) and Krish Gundu, co-founder and executive director, at a 2018 welcoming party for Kevin hosted by TJP board member Sarah Sloane, clinical associate professor, UT Austin.

According to his mentor during his fellowship, Kevin’s ability to communicate and engage were invaluable. Dr. Lynda Frost, a consultant and former Director at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, says, “Kevin has that ability to engage with people, and he had—and has—a real desire to improve himself and learn. When he got to Austin, he hit the ground running.”

And there was a lot of ground to cover, as Kevin himself says. He experienced the intersectionality of criminal justice and mental health through the many calls and emails from the public, the filing of complaints at TCJS, the interactions with county and state officials, and the monitoring of jails’ compliance with Texas standards. Then came the legislative session.

“It wasn’t uncommon to be working a case, responding to legislative staffers, making legislative office visits, and collaborating with other advocacy groups all in one day,” said Kevin. Simultaneously, he was assisting co-founder Diana Claitor in the research and writing of information sheets to support bills, while writing blog entries and articles for the Peer Voices section of the TJP website.

At the same time that Kevin was delving into the intricacies of legislative work, he was representing issues important to TJP in other arenas. For example, he served as a public member of the State Bar of Texas’ Disability Committee, leading them to establish a mental health subcommittee as an acknowledged disability deserving of legal protections, and in the fall of 2019, that committee appointed him chair.

Krish Gundu, co-founder and current executive director of TJP, facilitated his involvement with the Mental Health Law Symposium by the Texas Tech School of Law in November 2018, where he met key mental health stakeholders from all across the state.

“Those networking opportunities have continued to grow for me individually, as well as TJP organizationally,” says Kevin. “And I have had the opportunity to train law students in Tarrant County and speak at the Central Texas African American Family Conference in 2019, and I am scheduled to train defense attorneys at the Lubbock Private Defenders Office in January 2021.”

With funding support from the Hogg Foundation fellowship,  Texas Jail Project could let Kevin focus exclusively on preparing for his bar exam with the result that he achieved a long-term goal: passing the bar in December, 2020. During his last month with us, he was also appointed to be a commissioner at the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health. By these and other achievements, Kevin Garret has fulfilled one of the chief goals of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health’s peer policy fellowships—to amplify the voices of those with lived experience in policy development and implementation while increasing Texas Jail Project’s capacity to advance mental health policy in local criminal justice systems.

Texas Jail Project needs your support.  If you are able, please help us help your fellow Texans by making an online donation or by mailing a check to 

Texas Jail Project
13121 Louetta Road #1330
Cypress TX 77429

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