Ohio Innocence Project recognizes Donna Mayerson for counseling of staff, students and exonerees
Rebuilding Futures: Mayerson Provides Unmatched Support to OIP Clients
Story featured in the Ohio Innocence Project Ninth Edition: OIP Review
Psychologist Donna Mayerson initially became involved in OIP more than a decade ago through the financial support of her family’s foundation, The Mayerson Foundation. In 2018, Donna and Mark Godsey met at a bagel shop in Clifton for a routine meeting about the Foundation’s support of OIP. That meeting unexpectedly evolved into a conversation about the struggles of OIP’s freed clients with PTSD, and the efforts of the OIP staff and students to deal with the “secondary trauma” that comes with their jobs.
Donna offered to help. Reflecting back, Donna remembered, “Once you become aware of the pain and trauma perpetrated on all of the victims of an unjust system, it’s impossible to look the other way. And that pain and trauma travel through all of those who link arms to fight against injustice. I felt moved and compelled to do what I could.”
Five years later, Donna oversees the most comprehensive after-care program in the innocence world. The program includes individual and group counseling for OIP staff and students, as well as ongoing group and one-on-one sessions with exonerees.
Donna has even organized several weekend retreats for exonerees, including one involving music therapy, where each exoneree wrote a song about their experience with an award-winning professional songwriter from the non-profit Songwriting With: Other weekend retreats have involved exonerees with their significant others, so loved ones can better understand what each exoneree goes through and how it can affect intimate relationships. The program has turned into an extensive and ongoing effort by Donna, and she has done it all pro bono.
“Donna has been a godsend to me from the day I meet her,” said exoneree Dean Gillispie. “Without her, I could have never mentally survived my civil trial, probably the worst thing I have ever had to deal with since my release 11 years ago. Donna has taught me how to handle my PTSD so the rages don’t affect my whole day or week. She has shown me how to deal with situations that are known triggers before I go into them and how to work through that. She has not only helped me but also my mother. She has helped my beautiful girlfriend Pam in dealing with my PTSD and how to handle the situations that come with it.”
Exoneree Robert McClendon added: “I know I speak for all exonerees when I say that we completely trust Donna, and we don’t trust many people. She has a way of listening and understanding and then applying feedback to whatever situation that actually works for you. OIP frees us from prison but Donna frees our hearts, souls and minds. We need her.”
OIP is forever grateful to Donna Mayerson for the healing she has brought to all of us.
Donna Mayerson flew back to Ohio from Utah just to be there for Nancy Smith in February on the day that Nancy was finally exonerated.