Who We Are

Tara Libert, Co-founder and Executive Director

Before co-founding Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop in 2002, Tara worked as a radio and television news and documentary producer for twelve years. After producing many features on the US criminal justice system, showcasing such topics such as the death penalty, prison overcrowding and juvenile justice reform she was drawn to direct service. Tara began volunteering with Georgetown University’s Family Literacy Program, tutoring incarcerated parents at the District of Columbia jail. She is trained as a tutor with the Literacy Volunteers of America and a mediator with The Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County, MD. Tara trained at the Freedom Writer’s Institute and her writing has been included in Teaching Hope: Stories from the Freedom Writer Teachers (www.freedomwritersfoundation.org). She is also a certified Kundalini Y.O.G.A. for Youth Teacher. She has won the Linowes Award for “unsung community heroes” and the DC Department of Corrections George Strawn Volunteer Award. Tara oversees all aspects of Free Minds and works with the Board of Directors to fulfill the organization’s mission.

Kelli Taylor, Co-founder and Book Club Facilitator

Before co-founding and serving as Executive Director of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop (2002-2010), Kelli worked as a television news and documentary producer. She has served as a trained volunteer for Offender Aid and Restoration, mentoring and sharing literature with young inmates at the Arlington County Jail. Kelli uses her expertise to develop curriculum, research and locate books that will engage and excite new readers, and lead the weekly book club sessions at the DC Jail. Kelli continues to nurture Free Minds members’ love of reading and writing with frequent letters to our Prison Book Club members in federal prisons across the country.

Julia Mascioli, Deputy Director

Julia started at Free Minds as an intern in the summer of 2010. After graduating from Vassar College with a BA in English she moved to Cusco, Peru to teach English for eight months. When she returned to the US, Julia became the Free Minds Interim Program Manager until September 2012, when she entered graduate school. Julia earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in May 2015. Julia returned to Washington, DC, and became the Director of Development and Communications in 2015. In 2017 she became the Deputy Director. She is a published author whose fiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including Bellingham Review, District Lit, and Buffalo Almanack.

Keela Hailes, Reentry Manager

Keela started working at Free Minds in 2012 as the first-ever Reentry & Family Coordinator before taking over the Program Manager position. Her son has been an active participant in Free Minds since 2007. Keela has worked in the DC Public Schools and at Powell Tate Strategic Communications and Public Affairs. Keela holds an undergraduate degree from Trinity College in DC. She brings her extensive knowledge of positive youth development and of the DC community to Free Minds.

Mbachur Mbenga, AmeriCorps VISTA and Outreach Coordinator

Mbachur is a DC native and recent graduate of CUNY Brooklyn College with a BA in Children and Youth Studies. Mbachur began as an intern with Free Minds in 2013 through the Urban Alliance Foundation, and left for school in New York that winter. She has three years of teaching and advocacy experience in the New York City Department of Education, and is a spokeswoman for the Urban Teaching Fellows in Brooklyn, New York. Mbachur has given two speeches at the United Nations on Education and Equality for Women and Girls, and on the The School-to-Prison-Pipeline and how it effects Black children in the Urban Education System. Mbachur brings experience of evaluating the social and emotional development of youth, mostly from marginalized communities, all while displaying cultural competency, and community engagement.

Melissa Majano, Program Associate

Melissa provides programmatic support for all phases of our program. She is a 2013 graduate of Trinity University in Washington, DC. Melissa is the first member of her family to attend college.

Terrell Branham, Reentry Assistant

Terrell is a DC native and Free Minds member who now works full time in the Free Minds office. He first joined Free Minds when he was 16 years old and charged and incarcerated as an adult at the DC Jail. Terrell returned to DC in 2016 after 6 years in prison, and completed the Free Minds Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. In 2017, he graduated from the DC Department of Employment Services Career Connections program, a work readiness program with individualized job coaching, and joined the Free Minds staff as Reentry Assistant. He helps coordinate and facilitate Reentry Book Club programming, and serves as Lead Poet Ambassador in the community outreach program On The Same Page.

Marcus Bullock, Reentry Apprenticeship Trainer

Marcus Bullock grew up in Washington, DC and at the age of 15, he was charged as an adult for carjacking and armed robbery. After serving eight years in prison, Marcus was released in 2004 and by that time determined to turn his life around. He got a job at a paint store and after only being employed there for a year, he began his own residential and commercial painting company. He is now the CEO of Perspectives Premier Contractors, which employs other returning citizens. Marcus is the founder and CEO of Flikshop, an innovative mobile app that allows you to send a postcard to a loved one in prison directly from your phone. He is also the founder of the Flikshop School of Business, a program that teaches incarcerated youth life skills and entrepreneurship. In 2015, Marcus joined Free Minds as the Reentry Apprenticeship Coordinator and mentor, helping to make a difference in the lives of our members.

Poet Ambassadors

The Poet Ambassadors are a group of 25 Free Minds members home in the community who lead the On the Same Page sessions on a rotating basis. They have been members of Free Minds since the age of 16 or 17 at the DC Jail, where many wrote their first poems and read their first books. They have gone on to become avid readers and writers throughout their incarceration, and have pursued education via GED programs. These young men are highly motivated to give back to their community by sharing the strength and wisdom that writing has given them in order to prevent future violence.

Office Interns

Free Minds’ work is assisted by a dynamic team of interns from area universities. These interns provide valuable office support by typing poems, providing writing feedback, coordinating our writing blog, and helping with Community Outreach events. For more information about internship opportunities, contact Julia Mascioli at juliamascioli@freemindsbookclub.org.

Our Board

Allen Chin
Chief Financial Officer, Foreign Policy Magazine

Premal Dharia
Director of Litigation, Civil Rights Corps

Victoria Dunning
Program Officer, Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD), Ford Foundation

Alexandra Edwards
Senior Analyst, United States Government Accountability Office

Andrew Ferguson
Professor, University of District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law

Amy Fettig
Board Chair, Senior Staff Counsel, ACLU’s National Prison Project

LaKeeshia Fox
Law and Policy Associate, Poverty and Race Research Action Council

Christopher Gaskins
Occupational Therapist, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Tara Libert
Co-Founder & Executive Director, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop

Jessica Sandoval
National Campaign Strategist, ACLU’s National Prison Project

Advisory Board

Melanie Bates
Lawyer, www.melaniebates.net

R. Dwayne Betts
Author, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison and Shahid Reads his own Palm, Federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice (FCCJJ)

Len Elmore
Lawyer, ESPN Sportscaster, Professor at Columbia University

Eduardo R. Ferrer
Policy Director, Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative

Mary Goldschmidt
Ph.D., Educational Consultant, University of Scranton

Odile Isralson
CEO, Brown Hats Media

Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan
Filmmakers, Safari Media

Bradford Koles, Jr.
Executive Director, Advisory Board Company

Janet Libert
Editor-in-Chief, Executive Travel Magazine

Steve Lilienthal
MLS Librarian, Writer

Jennifer Lyman
Attorney, DC Office of Bar Counsel

Clinique Marshall Chapman
Forensic Social Worker, Office of Rehabilitation and Development, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia

Michael Mattocks
Author, Unlikely Brothers: Our Story of Adventure, Loss and Redemption with John Prendergast

George Pelecanos
Author (The Cut, The Way Home), TV Writer & Producer (The Wire)

Juliana Ratner
Law Student, Harvard Law School

Neha Raval
Program Officer, The New York Women’s Foundation

Etan Thomas
Poet, Author, Activist, former NBA Player, www.etanthomas.com

 

Thanks for all the love with my poetry Free Minds—I realize I have a talent the world needs to see and I promise I will expand it and share it.
– Alonzo, Age 18