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 Manager

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.

Janet Zwick, Youth Education & Outreach Manager

Janet Zwick co-facilitates and manages the book club with teenagers at New Beginnings Youth Development Center, as well as our weekly reading and writing workshops with children in partnership with the nonprofit Life Pieces to Masterpieces. She assists with curriculum development and program delivery for our poetry-based community engagement program, On the Same Page: Free Minds Poetry in the Classroom and Community. Prior to joining Free Minds in 2019, she served as the Education Director for An Open Book Foundation. Janet has a Master of Education from George Washington University as well as a JD from the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School.

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 a native Washingtonian and the first member of her family to attend college.

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.

Melody Brown, Reentry Coordinator

Melody Brown began working with Free Minds in 2018. Prior to this, she worked as a Literacy Intervention Leader at Reading Partners, and had a career in numerous local and federal government agencies, including the Department of Public Works, NASA, and the FBI. Melody has a degree in Business Administration from Howard University. As Reentry Coordinator, she works directly with Free Minds members returning from jail or prison, coordinating weekly programming and assisting members with job training and placement.

Neely Wester, Program Associate

Neely Wester began with Free Minds as an intern in the spring of 2019 and has since became Program Associate, where she works as part of the Prison Book Club, communicating with members currently incarcerated in federal facilities. With a BA in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, Neely is currently working towards her Master’s in Sociology from American University with a research focus on racial inequality and community cohesion. As a master’s student, she has worked as a tutor in DC public schools with DC Reads, as a research assistant analyzing HIV in rural-aging communities in South Africa, and as a teaching assistant for college-level classes on power and privilege.

Imanee Magee, Program Assistant

Imanee Magee was initially an intern at Free Minds beginning June of 2019. In Fall 2019, she joined the staff as the Program Assistant. Currently a rising Senior at the George Washington University, majoring in International Affairs with a regional concentration in Africa and a Creative Writing minor, she is the Editor-in-Chief of The Black Ace Magazine on campus. In the summer of 2018, Imanee was a high school facilitator at Global Kids Inc., a non-profit exposing D.C. youth to the global world through international affairs. Following Global Kids, she continued helping youth at the Boys and Girls Club. Additionally, Imanee was a member of the 2019 DC Youth Slam Team, and tutored students in Chinese before attending George Washington University.

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

Angela Bellota
Foundation Relations Manager, Groundswell Fund

Premal Dharia
Founder and Director, Defender Impact Initiative

Alexandra Edwards
Senior Analyst, United States Government Accountability Office

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

Chris Turner
Board of Directors, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Jasmine Tyler
Advocacy Director, US Program, Human Rights Watch

Advisory Board

Juliana Andonian
Staff Attorney, FAMM

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

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
Senior Program Associate, Restoring Promise Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice

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)

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

Josh Rovner
Senior Advocacy Associate, The Sentencing Project

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