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.

Jessica Xiao, Prison Book Club Coordinator

Jessica is the Prison Book Club Coordinator 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 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.

Crystal Iwuoha, Communications & Development Associate

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 & Development Associate.

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.

James Allen, Reentry & Outreach Assistant

James joined Free Minds in 2017 after serving 5 years in prison. He participated in the Reentry Book Club and Job Readiness Apprenticeship, and trained as a Poet Ambassador. In 2018, he began working full time in the Free Minds office as the Reentry & Outreach Assistant. He is a rapper and songwriter, and he is highly motivated to give back to his community to prevent violence. As the Reentry & Outreach Assistant, he provides program support and uses poetry and storytelling to raise awareness about the root causes of youth incarceration.

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
Legislative Representative, AARP

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

Randy Marsh
Operations Director, Horton’s Kids

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

Maegan Scott
Consultant, FMG Leading

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
Editor-in-Chief, Executive Travel Magazine

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


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