Transforming Lives was started by Cynthia Kling, Clifton Williamson, and Alelur Duran - who were incarcerated for 26 and 14 years respectively. Norah Hart was the founding lawyer and continues work for TL.

 

Cynthia Kling, who has worked for publications ranging from Newsweek to Conde Nast, volunteered for the Bard Prison Initiative where she became aware of how much more support people behind walls needed and began the program when her partners were still incarcerated  According to New York’s Dept. of Corrections, there are about 50,000 citizens incarcerated in New York State's prisons; only 300 of them are in the Bard Program  – less than 1%.

 

Clifton “Skye” Williamson is a co-founder of Transforming Lives. As an artist, Skye expressed his skill and passion for the arts by developing and directing educational, theater, and trauma-related rehabilitation programs for incarcerated people. Skye is presently an Associate at Galaxy Gives, he supports the Learning & Impact team in the areas of database management and research. He is also a fellow at the REFORM ALLIANCE where he is working on a range of Special Projects (e.g., Court Watch App, NFT Dow, Job Fair). Skye holds a BA in mathematics from Bard College. His undergraduate studies focused on algorithms, probability and statistics, and machine learning. His lived experience and ongoing research form the cornerstone of his passion for learning and trying to identify the most effective ways to support the criminal legal system reform movement.  

Alelur “Alex” Duran is a Program Director at Galaxy Gives overseeing its Criminal Justice Reform portfolio. He previously served as a program specialist with the Open Society Foundations supporting grant-making efforts tackling mass incarceration in the United States. Alex’s entry point into philanthropy began at the Ford Foundation as a business associate advancing its mission of addressing inequality in all its manifestations. Prior to joining Ford, he worked at the Center for Community Alternatives, where he provided counseling for men and women involved with the justice system and helped the agency execute its broader justice reform strategy. At CCA, Alex became a spokesperson in support of efforts to raise the age of criminal responsibility for adolescents in New York State. His passion to dismantle systems of oppression come from having been impacted by the criminal legal system at a young age and being sentenced to 14 years in prison. He has a BA from Bard College. His thesis, “Gang Exportation and the Reproduction of Violence: The Trinitarios in the Crucible of Mass Incarceration,” provided a case study on how mass incarceration in the United States contributes to deviance amplification and the expansion of gangs to other countries. A lover of history, Alex grew up in the boogie-down Bronx, New York.

Norah Hart, who has been a class action lawyer for 17 years, is keenly aware of the prosecutorial misconduct, false confessions, and corruption that flood the prisons.  She is also very aware of the effect desperation can have on people of great intelligence facing incredibly tough situations.  Her favorite quote is by Kahlil Gibran:  “For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?”

 

Clifton and Alex who worked on the program while incarcerated, understand what happens to individuals who are not given American's promise of rehabilitation.  They become isolated, lose touch with their families, get involved with gangs and, by the time they go back on the street, are in worse shape than when they came in.  

 

According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a juvenile who goes to jail has a greater chance of becoming an incarcerated adult than a child who does drugs or is sexually abused.

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transforming lives by providing inmates opportunities in rehab journaling

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