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.

Allen Chin, Director of Finance & Operations

Allen joined the Free Minds staff in 2019. As Director of Finance and Operations, Allen is responsible for the following areas: financial administration, business planning and budgeting, human resources and administration. Previous to this role, Allen served on the Board of Directors as Treasurer. Before Free Minds, Allen worked as Chief Financial Officer for the following media organizations: Foreign Policy and The New Republic.  He is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from James Madison University.

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.

Jessica Xiao, Prison Book Club Manager

Jessica is the Prison Book Club Manager at Free Minds. She is also a freelance writer and editor interested in activist culture, radical vulnerability, feminism, race and identity, mass incarceration, and climate injustice. You can find her work at Everyday Feminism, The Establishment, Huffington Post, TheHumanist.com, and Medium. Previously, she was a Community Facilitator for McGill University’s “Social Learning for Social Impact” GROOC and the Marketing and Communications Lead for their environmental hackathon “On the Earth, For the Earth” at the 2016 World Social Forum. From 2015 to 2016, Jessica was the Projects Assistant at the American Humanist Association, Operations Manager at Humanist Press, and Assistant Editor at TheHumanist.com. She is Co-Chair of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Economics and Psychology from McGill University.

Melissa Majano, Program Coordinator

Melissa began working with Free Minds in 2013. She provides programmatic support for all phases of our program, and coordinates the Prison Book Club volunteer program. She is a 2013 graduate of Trinity University in Washington, DC. Melissa is the first member of her family to attend college.

Crystal Iwuoha, Communications & Community Engagement Specialist

Though a Washingtonian, she spent her undergraduate tenure obtaining her Bachelor of Science at the University of Southern Mississippi. There, she majored in communication studies but chose to delve into a few criminal justice courses to continue her interest in the American prison system (with a specific interest in the prison industrial complex). As a result, she was able to visit Mississippi prisons and witness firsthand the living conditions and rehabilitative programs offered to incarcerated youths and adults. After graduation, Crystal returned to D.C., where she worked as a social justice instructor/program coordinator at St. Albans School and as an advertising sales associate for Sojourners Magazine. In the spring of 2018, Crystal joined Free Minds as the Communications & Community Engagement Specialist.

Tia Watkins, Reentry Job Coach

Tia Watkins has established a multi-faceted career serving communities and organizations in job development and coaching, recruiting, and human resource operations. Additionally, she has supported her community through building relationships and serving grass roots organizations geared to improving the lives of others. Tia completed both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Business Administration through University System of Maryland schools, and aspires to continue serving communities and people in transition. She has dedicated a great deal of her work to helping to connect segmented populations of the workforce to employers and has established a rapport with many organizations, companies, and stakeholders within Washington, DC. Tia is the mother of two wonderful children, and takes pride in spending time with her family and loved ones. She enjoys reading, travel, and cuisine of all kinds.

Joshua Samuel, Congressman John Lewis Fellow

Joshua is a native Washingtonian and a Free Minds member. Joshua joined Free Minds in 2009, when he was 16 years old and incarcerated as an adult at the DC Jail. Joshua participated in the Free Minds program while he was incarcerated in the DC Jail and in the federal Bureau of Prisons. After his release in 2018, he completed the Free Minds Job Readiness Apprenticeship program. In 2019, he was selected to be the Congressman John Lewis Fellow, a year-long fellowship for a formerly incarcerated Free Minds member to gain professional and leadership experience, and use poetry and storytelling to promote healing and nonviolence. Joshua is very involved in the DC community; in addition to his work with Free Minds, he is the co-owner of Black Allure clothing line and a speaker for the Community Justice Reform Coalition.

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, visit this page.

Our Board

Premal Dharia
Director of Litigation, Civil Rights Corps

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
Legislative Representative, AARP

Michael Frohm
Chief Operating Officer, Goodwill of Greater Washington

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

Randy Marsh
Director of Finance & Operations, Horton’s Kids

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

Maegan Scott
Principal, Wayfinding Partners

Jasmine Tyler
Advocacy Director, US Program, Human Rights Watch

Advisory Board

Melanie Bates
Melanie Bates Consulting, LLC

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
Managing Director, TLC LLC

Steve Lilienthal
MLS Librarian, Writer

Jennifer Lyman
Attorney, DC Office of Bar Counsel

Clinique Marshall Chapman
Program Manager, Behavioral Health Unit, DC Department of Corrections

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

James Zeigler
Attorney, Law Office of James Zeigler

Jason Ziedenberg
Director of Research and Publications, Alliance for Safety and Justice

 

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