Contributed by Norrell Edwards, ARC, Inc. volunteer
Imagine a life of isolation—where for decades you have had little to no contact with loved ones or family. Every year, for as many years as you can remember, birthdays have come and gone unacknowledged. This is the kind of painful loneliness that many prisoners face. Often, it is only the work of those like Donna Venable, a Life History Investigator at ARC, Inc., that helps bring compassion and kindness back to inmates’ lives.
Donna remembers recently visiting a client who has been in prison since he was 18 years old. He is now in his 60s. When Donna presented him with a birthday card signed by everyone in the office, tears slowly began to form in her client’s eyes. He had not seen a greeting card in years. Who knew that something so simple, that many of us take for granted, could elicit so much joy?
As Donna says, “What we do is bring to light a lot of things that people don’t realize. When people support the death penalty, they believe our clients are monsters. But they’re not. They’re humans.” The team at ARC, Inc. works tirelessly to remind and show judges, prosecutors and the public that their clients are still humans, powerfully shaped by their experiences, just like the rest of us. In their quest to uplift clients’ lives, Donna says, “When I work with clients, I just want to tell their story.” Their stories might not escape those prison walls otherwise.
Donna, like her co-workers, is very aware of the impact of the current political climate. Some states that seldom had individuals on death row or hadn’t had an execution in years now have executions quickly lined up. The death penalty had been declining, but now things are changing. Yet, thanks to employees like Donna, they are ready to face these challenges head-on. As she says, “We can't get comfortable. We’re still fighting and we’re going to be fighting for a while.”