At Dream.Org, we believe in the power of transformation. Everyone deserves a second chance and the opportunity to shape a better future. That’s why we created the Dream Justice Cohort - a leadership development and skill building program that empowers justice-impacted leaders to take a seat at the table where criminal justice solutions are made. By uplifting these frontline leaders, we build sustained leadership capability at the grassroots level that has the power to permanently reduce the footprint of incarceration in America.
Now in its third year, we are thrilled to announce the 25 extraordinary people chosen to participate in this year’s cohort. Our 2023 Dream Justice Cohort participants represent a diverse range of backgrounds reflecting the multifaceted nature of justice-impacted people. They come from communities across the country, bringing with them a rich tapestry of regional experiences and knowledge.
100% of our cohort members have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system: 80% have personally experienced incarceration and 20% have a loved one who has been incarcerated. As participants bring their distinct perspectives to the table, this unique blend of perspectives will foster a rich and dynamic learning environment.
The individuals chosen have shown great determination, commitment, and an unwavering focus on creating a fairer and more just society. We are eager to witness their growth and the positive influence they will undoubtedly have in our communities.
They will join over 40 cohort alumni as leaders in our Empathy Network - who have already leveraged their skills to join Justice in passing 6 bipartisan reform bills.
Alex Mayo is a community advocate who believes in #SecondChances4All. As a formerly incarcerated person, he has experienced firsthand many of the ways that our laws and corporate policies work together to systematically dehumanize people with criminal convictions and exclude them from resources they need to thrive. He believes we all need to cultivate the political courage required to build healthy communities, provide hope and healing for all people, and promote prevention over punishment. Since his release from prison in 2012, Alex has devoted his life to grassroots organizing, supporting decarceration efforts, and learning how to best use his voice to replace oppressive systems. He currently serves as the Executive Director of WA Voices where he leads efforts to change sex offense laws with the goal to eventually #AbolishTheRegistry in Washington State. Alex lives outside of Seattle, WA with his parents and his dog Oliver.
Andony Corleto works as a program associate with the Vera Institute of Justice, where he provides research, communications, and technical assistance that help create high-quality postsecondary and vocational education programs in prisons and jails throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Before joining forces with Vera, Andony provided his talents to production in the entertainment industry as a second assistant director. He also served with the paramilitary organization of Wildland firefighters in the mountains of California, battling flames in two of their record-breaking seasons, serving his obligations as an indentured servant to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A native of south-central Los Angeles, injustice and disparity has impacted every individual Andony has known in life. Navigating his youth through the tribalism of gang culture and savagery of police officers poaching human lives into the prison industrial complex have shaped and propelled his efforts to combat the economic, social, racial, educational and political inequities within our community and country as a whole. Today those efforts remain strong.
Khalil "Army" Armstead is the Executive Director and a Founding Member of Emergent Works (EW) and has an impressive background in music and ministry. EW is a nonprofit software company that trains returning citizens and those impacted by the criminal legal system to build community programs and products to reduce the harm caused by and one-day end mass incarceration. As the Executive Director, Army takes pride in serving and stewarding this community, ensuring that it is safe for all returning citizens and that our software products stay connected to our central mission to generate large-scale systemic change in the movement to end mass incarceration. Army is setting a new standard for reentry work and is committed to extending access and opportunities provided to him as a mentee in EW's inaugural mentorship program.
Army's resilience journey was tested when he was rejected from 195 jobs and struggled with mental health issues before finding and further developing the EW community. Determined to be successful on probation and rebuilding his life, he was inspired to learn to code to gain income by building websites for his friends, but he found something much more fulfilling being a part of Emergent Works. Twelve weeks into the program, Army became EW's first employee and operations manager, overseeing and designing new programs for communities impacted by mass incarceration. Although COVID-19 disrupted many of EW's plans, Army created and launched the first EW 1:1 virtual mentorship program, which connects formerly incarcerated & justice-involved individuals with professional software engineers to build digital literacy skills and learn how to code to decrease recidivism and close the racial wealth gap.
During Army's time as operations manager, he experienced many successes along the way as he served as the product manager, supporting the development of EW's open-source not911 app, which is designed to direct people to organizations that offer counseling, mediation, and intervention services, and Poll2Poll which is a mutual-aid app aiming to be a platform for citizens to report updates on local polling sites (like closures and long lines), and connects voters to community-organized ride shares if a poll location is unexpectedly closed. Army's role as product manager overseeing all of the detailed user stories for the engineering team and exceptional communications with clients has led to not911 going viral and Poll2Poll being utilized in the 2020 presidential election.
A year after serving as operations manager, Army became Executive Director and, in three months, led EW to receive a $1,000,000 grant from the owner of Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey's StartSmall fund. Further, Army worked closely with EW's Director of Operations, Aedan Macdonald, to successfully execute a partnership with Community Justice Exchange and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, taking ownership of the Bail Fund App. This app provides efficient and equitable access to bail funds for individuals incarcerated during pretrial detention and its continued development. These efforts helped the EW team achieve multi-million dollars within that same year. Faith and resilience have shaped Army as a steadfast champion for mental health awareness, a fervent leader, and a firm believer that through our lived experiences, we can create the solutions for the social problems impacting our communities. Army looks forward to carrying out the vision of EW while continuing to create opportunities for communities impacted by mass incarceration, including providing holistic support and trauma-informed care. We build community and social impact that is supported by and empowered through technology.
Austin Scholl is a justice-impacted person who has spent a third of his life, and all of his adult life, dealing with the effects of such a system. Since being released from incarceration in 2015, Austin has started his own company, Unfolding Software, where he does Website Development and CRM work for companies of all sizes, specializing in small-businesses. Additionally, Austin is currently finishing his Bachelor degree in Cybersecurity at WGU. Austin is passionate about using his people skills, along with his technical skills, to reform the justice system. Austin is especially passionate about taking a holistic approach to crime and punishment, and holding the prison system accountable for its ineffectiveness.
Belen Enriquez, an American entrepreneur, and criminal justice advocate, has journeyed from Ecuador to the US, from academia to the courtroom, from formerly incarcerated individual to defender. She brings diverse expertise in legal and political analysis, digital arts, writing, and strategic consultation. After earning degrees in Organizational Management and Finance, she immersed herself in criminal law, awakening a passion for justice. This passion was further fueled by her encounter with the law in 2018. She used her 15-month incarceration as an opportunity to assist other incarcerated individuals, transforming a challenging period into a platform for advocacy. She amplified her contributions upon release, aiding early releases and leading the Law Offices of Paul Petruzzi in Miami as the Office Director. Featured in numerous prestigious media outlets, Belen fights for justice and aims to become an attorney.
Her enthusiasm for technology, artificial intelligence, and design thinking interweaves with her professional and academic journey, driving innovative solutions. Currently enrolled in the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania, Belen's ambition to create significant change remains unyielding. A strong supporter of immigration reform, she is particularly concerned about the challenges individuals face post-incarceration, underlining her empathy and commitment to equality, focusing on reentry and immigration consequences. Belen's life and work are a testament to resilience, transformation, and an enduring commitment to justice and social impact.
Many things can be said about Carl Fields, but lacking a transformative story isn’t one of them. After enduring a state prison sentence of almost 20 yrs, advocacy and policy change are now his life’s focus. As a Shelter Director and Community Organizer, Carl has pushed hard to ensure that people-first language, and not old-world pejorative speech, be the vernacular used to describe system-impacted people and their experiences. With an academic aptitude for communication and cognition, he has shaped local systems since his release and built partnerships where previously there weren’t any. He’s spent the last few years working on the pre- and post-side of incarceration, from bail fund and participatory defense work, to training on community power in Community Corrections.
In 2009, Coss Marte was sent to jail as the ringleader of a multi-million dollar drug operation. He was also grossly overweight and warned by his physician that his current lifestyle, if left unchecked, would likely kill him.
Faced with this grim prognosis, Coss started to get in shape using the tools he had -- his prison cell and his own body weight. Within six months he lost 70 pounds and replicated his successful formula of body weight exercises with 20 other inmates. Then he launched CONBODY, a prison style bootcamp that has gained over 70,000+ clients and has hired 50+ formerly incarcerated individuals to teach fitness classes. Since the launch of his company he’s been featured in over 200 major media outlets such as NBC, CNN, The New York Times, Men's Health and has been a 3 time TED Talk Speaker. He’s also won major pitch competitions such as Pitch for Good by TOM’s shoes and the YPO shark tank competition, which combined raised $2,000,000.
Today Coss co-founded a non-profit organization called Second Chance Studios, which trains and helps employ formerly incarcerated individuals to become experts in audio engineering, video production, and podcasting.
In addition, he launched CONBUD, which is looking to hire formerly incarcerated individuals that have been affected by the war on drugs to build a personal and impactful presence in the cannabis market in New York State through dispensaries that he's looking to open under the NYS conditional licensing program.
Cozine A Welch Jr. is the Program Coordinator for the Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration, a broad-based, statewide, non-partisan collaboration representing non-profit, faith-based, advocacy, grassroots, and service organizations whose mission is to end mass incarceration in Michigan and create and restore healthy communities.
Incarcerated at the age of 17 to serve a 22 year sentence, Cozine has used his experiences to inform and inspire his work as an educator, community researcher, and poet. As an educator Cozine has served as co-instructor of the Atonement Project and the Theatre & Incarceration courses at the University of Michigan, focusing on restorative justice, reconciliation, atonement, and the role of arts in healing and rehabilitation. As a writer and poet Cozine has had his work featured in The Michigan Quarterly Review, Plough Quarterly, the Periphery, and eleven consecutive volumes of the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing where he later served as the Managing Editor further expanding his influence in the realm of prisoner creative writing.
As an activist, reform advocate and abolitionist Cozine has served as the Executive Director of A Brighter Way, a nonprofit organization based in Washtenaw County that offers mentorship and wraparound services to individuals who have been formerly incarcerated, as well as a member of the University of Michigan’s Documenting Prison Education and the Arts team where, as a part of the Carceral State Research Project, he helped to produce the video series “Living On L.O.P.” He also has served on various councils, collaboratives, and partnerships aimed towards the reduction and elimination of the criminal justice system.
Deja Walker graduated from Mercy College with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Forensics and a minor in Psychology. Deja has worked in program management on Rikers Island working to reduce idle time with programs that assist the incarcerated population to prepare for re-entry back into society. After spending about 5 years in corrections, Deja now focuses on diverting adolescent juvenile cases from the traditional court system with restorative justice programming. Outside of criminal justice, she
spends her time traveling the world and learning and experiencing the different culture and customs of various countries.
Gem Jones is a social justice advocate who seeks out and creates opportunities to build diverse networks by utilizing her platform through public speaking engagements and proximity gatherings to bring awareness, education, and change to the criminal justice systems and policies. As a directly impacted justice involved person she stands boldly to bear testimony of what a life of redemption and one invested in by those who embody Empathy looks like. A digital content creator and sole moderator of the advocacy social media site,"What about us behind the walls". An advocacy site that lends an ear and gives a voice to our incarcerated silenced society members in the state of Arkansas. A member of the "Incarcerated Children's Advocacy Network" of the "Campaign For The Fair Sentencing of Youth"s organization, an organization that has recently been credited for the release of 1000 children across the country sentenced to die in prison and other extreme term lengths. Gem was also one of those children and the Campaign For The Fair Sentencing of Youth is one of the organizations who has invested into her life. These are just some chapters in Gem's Redemption story grab a chair and a coffee there's more.
JoyBelle Phelan, a Colorado native, has been creative since childhood, playing multiple instruments before utilizing her vocal skills all throughout high school. She was incarcerated twice, for a total of seven years behind the walls, and has successfully completed community corrections and was granted early release from parole. She passionately believes that no one should be remembered for the worst decision they ever made. She is using her lived experience to challenge the perceptions of what prison is like for women and what re-entry can look like. While inside, she fostered her love of the written word as she volunteered as a Peer Education Mentor and a 7 Habits Core Group Member. She worked as the Pre-Release Clerk and assisted in the development and implementation of the Re-Entry Unit Program at La Vista Correctional Facility. She is currently an operations associate at the Prison Journalism Project and volunteers in the Colorado Dept of Corrections, providing writing workshops. She was the first woman from La Vista to be published in The Inside Report newspaper and has an essay published in the CCJRC Go Guide about being successful on parole. She has been a guest on multiple national podcasts focused on re-entry. Her TEDx San Quentin talk can be found here.
Khorry Ramey was born and raised in St.Louis, Missouri. Recently Khorry has been closely working with Missouri alternatives to the death penalty (MAPD MO) after the execution of Khorry's father back in November of 2022. Khorry's main goal and the thing Khorry is passionate about is abolishing the death penalty in Missouri and then in all 50 states.
Kimberly Biggs serves as the founder and Executive Director of From Prison to Purpose Mississippi. A mother of four and grandmother of two grandsons, Kimberly was born in Laurel, Mississippi and grew up in Prentiss, Mississippi. After a difficult upbringing and becoming a mother at the age of 15, she started selling marijuana and cocaine to support her family and while taking classes education at Stillman College and William Carey College. At the age of 20, Kimberly got married, stopped selling drugs, and continued to build a family. During this time, she became involved in real estate and helped many people get homes in her hometown. Unfortunately at this time, Kimberly was also introduced to some illegal business practices which resulted in a 3-year prison sentence leading her to lose her marriage, children, home, and life as she knew it.
Kimberly is now an advocate for formerly incarcerated people, In 2016, she founded From Prison To Purpose Mississippi, a ministry program providing others everything they needed to succeed returning back into society from incarceration. Knowing personally what it’s like coming out homeless with little to no family or community support, From Prison To Purpose Mississippi strives to provide needed supports to help build leadership, confidence and self sufficiency.
From Prison to Purpose Mississippi also provides vocational skills training, mental health counseling services, peer support, alcohol and drug counseling, housing, life and budget skills. We also help individuals to restore their voting rights and expunge their criminal records. Kimberly is a member of the National Council of Incarcerated Women and Girls, Chairperson of the Texas Second Chance Alliance, certified Peer Specialist (MS, GA, AL), and Prison Reform Advocate (Southerners on New Ground). She also completed certification through the American Restorative Justice Leadership Program for Women.
Kimberly Biggs is an over comer of life challenges and trauma. She is a vehicle of hope for life changing tools for returning citizens. She is a kingdom builder, a servant leader. She believes in restoring and reimagining community development by meeting the needs of our communities.
Marsha King's life journey has been shaped by her personal experiences with the justice system, which taught her the critical importance of having an advocate on the outside. Her passion for the protection of inmates' rights has inspired her to become an activist, serving as a voice for incarcerated individuals and their loved ones.
Marsha is committed to providing a range of prison services that enable prisoners and their families to navigate the complex legal and administrative processes involved in incarceration. Her expertise includes consulting on the First Step Act, Criminal Case Review, Second Chance Act, and early termination of supervised release. Marsha also serves as a resource for those who have been impacted by the policies of the penal system and is dedicated to fighting for human rights in this context.
As a mother, Marsha understands the critical role that parental rights play in preserving the family structure and supporting the mental health of children. She is deeply committed to ensuring that these rights are honored even after a sentence has been completed, and she believes that this is critical for the well-being of both individuals and society at large. In addition to her work as an advocate, Marsha is also committed to promoting legislative policy that addresses the accountability of lawyers and judges who violate the rights of offenders during the pretrial phase. She believes that this is essential for ensuring that previously incarcerated individuals are able to achieve meaningful and lasting restoration. Marsha is making a tangible difference in the lives of those impacted by the justice system and is working towards a future where justice is truly just.
Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, became a gun control activist after she survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida in 2018.
She began her activism by calling and leading a press conference to amplify the voices and experiences of students of color, marking a new generation of activists aiming to be fiercely intersectional. While studying Political Science at Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University, Mei-Ling was inspired to challenge injustice, mass incarceration, and the abuses of power within the criminal legal system. Currently, she is a Community Organizer for Chainless Change. Deeply rooted in the value of lived experience, Chainless Change, Inc. serves as a
community of recovery, advocacy, and support for those impacted by the criminal legal system.
Mei-Ling has addressed audiences on local and national platforms, including the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, the 50 Years After King: I AM Mountaintop Conference, the Illinois Education Association Representative Assembly, and the United State of Women Summit. Mei-Ling has been featured in local and national media outlets including Ms. Magazine, Essence Magazine, Seventeen Magazine, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Westside Gazette, USA Today, and the Washington Post.
Michael LaReau is a system impacted individual living in Madison Wisconsin. His passion for policy change, along with his desire to see the use of incarceration greatly change, stem from his own experiences within the WDOC. At the age of 15 Michael was sent to an adult maximum security prison where he fought for understanding and growth. After 13 parole hearings and 22 years of incarceration he was returned to a drastically changed technological landscape.
For the past 3+ years he has been finding ways to be involved in the process of advocacy. He is looking to further his skills/knowledge as a way to bring attention to the need for more immediate access to mental health services upon release. Additionally, Michael wants to create diversion programs for those who would be better served by receiving treatment, medication and education.
Moncies Franco is a Project Coordinator/Community Engagement Specialist for the Health, Homelessness & Criminal Justice Lab at Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute. He is dedicated to community investment and sits on the Board of Directors for the following nonprofit organizations: The Aliveness Project, Minnesota Freedom Fund, and Minnesota Second Chance Coalition.
He is a formerly incarcerated individual, motivated by his lived experience to become a change agent within the justice-involved community. He is committed to public safety and engaging in collaborative efforts across partisan lines to eliminate structural inequities in the criminal legal system.
His passion for criminal justice reform derives from his personal experience as a second generation incarcerated adult; this experience has become the impetus for his commitment to breaking the cycle of incarceration for his own children.
Rafiah Muhammad-McCormick entered the fight for criminal justice reform after losing her son Rodney to gun violence in 2020. Prior to entering the public sector, Rafiah was able to rise from being a teenage parent, birthing 4 children before she was 21 years old, to becoming a top-level engineering manager in the automotive field. Unfortunately, after seeing her son gunned down in her own backyard, she no longer found purpose in this work. Since Rodney's death, Rafiah has dedicated her life to working for restorative justice, victims' support, and violence prevention. Rafiah feels our current retribution based system causes more trauma to those who are harmed or have caused harm and encourages more violence.
Rafiah volunteers with a multitude of organizations focused on justice reform. She is a board member and officer of the Nashville Peacemakers and chapter president of Mothers Over Murder. She is now employed with Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty as Community Outreach Coordinator whose primary role is educating Tennesseans about the racial injustice inherent to the death penalty and making connections with organizations focused on racial justice and criminal justice reform to lead the work for repeal.
Ray Mendoza is a Marine Corps veteran and a veteran of Desert Storm as well as a veteran of the war on drugs. After serving 17 years and 9 months of a 20 year federal sentence, he came home to work as a violence interrupter and mentor to Milwaukee’s street population. He is currently the Circle of Support organizer for FREE. And is also trained and certified as a National Credible Messenger through PCITI, Cure Violence Interrupter Trainer, Social Capital Trainer and a trained Circle of Support Facilitator and Trainer.
Richard Lee is passionate about criminal justice reform. He believes the credibility of the criminal justice system has been stretched by misaligned incentives, and that accountability is needed on both sides to restore the public’s faith. In particular, Richard is skeptical of the justification for the undisputed ‘trial penalty’, which has resulted in skipping the accused’ due process rights in favor of the so-called ‘efficiency’ of justice. Richard is currently a law student and aspiring public defender.
Shawn Wright is an entrepreneur and businessman who founded The Wright Cause Urban Youth Conservation, a nonprofit created to empower underserved youth, in 2022. Shawn is the Co-Founder of the D.R.E.S.S. Coalition. The D.R.E.S.S. Coalition collaborates with local
government agencies, organizations, businesses, religious organizations, law enforcement, and citizens to reduce recidivism, improve public safety, and ensure that justice-impacted individuals have a fair chance to thrive.
Shawn’s passion for serving the youth and ending mass incarceration comes from lived experience in underserved, under-resourced, and under-represented communities. Shawn’s misguided childhood led him to be sentenced to 27 years in prison. His experience with the failed criminal justice system and the lack of re-entry resources fuels him to advocate for reform and lead our youth toward a thriving future.
Sheena Eastburn is an advocate for justice living in Missouri. Currently a student working towards a BA in Legal Studies with hopes of going to law school. Currently working with Human Rights Watch on a National Leadership Council to end Life Without Parole. She started a Reentry 501(3)c P.R.E.P for Release working with system impacted individuals and families, and currently working on Show Me Justice For All, an organization dedicated to advocating for change. As a person with lived experience knowing how difficult navigating the justice system, she is dedicated to helping as many as she can. Sheena is always willing to be a voice for those who need to be heard. Her favorite quote is “it is never too late to be who you were meant to be”. She believes in redemption and in second chances.
Starling Thomas is a dedicated advocate for criminal justice reform and currently serves as the Communications Director at The LOHM. Her passion for this cause stems from personal experiences that have shaped her perspective. As a young child, Starling witnessed her mother endure a brutal beating at the hands of the police. This traumatic event left a lasting impact on her and fueled her determination to address the flaws within the criminal legal system. As an adult, Starling faced her unjust incarceration, a wrongful conviction that led her to spend time behind bars. Despite the immense challenges, she refused to be silenced and pursued an appeal for her case. Her unwavering determination paid off, making her part of the remarkable 2% of individuals in the American prison population who successfully win their federal case on appeal.
Starling's journey through the justice system led her to join the inaugural Faces of Women Imprisoned Cohort, an experience that further deepened her understanding of the detrimental effects that the criminal legal system can have on women and their families. This firsthand knowledge fuels her commitment to fighting for justice and advocating for the rights of those impacted by the system.
Starling holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations from Florida A&M University, where she developed a strong foundation in strategic communication and relationship building. She also pursued her passion for storytelling by earning an MFA in screenwriting from Regent University, honing her creative skills in crafting compelling narratives. Starling's expertise as a filmmaker and writer has garnered recognition, with her work featured in various esteemed publications such as Sheen Magazine, Rolling Out, Divine Voice, and Page Magazine. Through her writing, she aims to shed light on important issues, amplify marginalized voices, and inspire meaningful change.
Driven by her personal experiences and professional expertise, Starling Thomas continues to be a fierce advocate, striving to reform the criminal legal system and uplift those impacted by its injustices.
Born and raised in Wichita, KS, Yusef Presley is a former Youth Leader turned staff member with Progeny, a youth/adult partnership that seeks to transform the juvenile justice system in Kansas. Yusef understands well the impacts of our current system on youth, having been in the foster care system since he was five years old. He lived through over one hundred foster care placements until being adopted in 2009. He went back into the system in 2012 under the Juvenile Justice Authority. He joined Progeny to ensure other young people do not experience the hardships and lack of governance he endured in this system, and to raise awareness of foster care-to-prison pipelines. He has represented Kansas on the national level as a youth representative on the CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy) Team and as a Youth Leader with the Youth First Initiative. Yusef recently was granted the distinguished Open Society Foundation-Soros Justice Fellowship grant, to produce a documentary about the experiences of young people touched by the foster care-to-prison pipeline in Kansas. His long-term goal is to become a mentor and role model for youth striving to overcome difficult situations. His dream is to be a Little League coach and open his own foster care transitional home.
Zach Palmer is the founder of Coalition to Abolish Prison Slavery at Iowa. He currently works as a reentry coach while pursuing a bachelors in English & Social Justice at the University of Iowa on the pre-law track. He is formerly incarcerated in the juvenile and adult system while struggling with addiction. At 17, he was arrested for misdemeanor offenses and forwarded to adult court apart of the school-to-prison pipeline. In the middle of his own legal involvement, he dealt with multi-generational parental incarceration. Zach is also a mentor, has presented at research conferences, and spoken on several advocacy panels. From a young age, he learned that adolescents are often left behind (personal & parental) in the criminal legal system. Zach’s mission is to end the school-to-prison pipeline, the 13th amendment exception, and restore dignity to justice-impacted individuals.
Dream.Org is fighting for a society in which there is freedom and dignity for all. But, we can’t do it alone. We invite you to become a partner with us in training and ushering in the new social justice leaders of tomorrow. With your support we can continue the work of bringing people together across racial, social, and partisan lines to create a future with freedom and dignity for all.