Voters in four states—Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont—approved ending the practice of involuntary labor and slavery as punishment for a criminal conviction.
Born and raised in Georgia, Lauren has always had a passion for giving back and social justice work. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in Journalism and Business and her Masters in Hospitality and Tourism Management, Event Planning, and Executive Leadership from Roosevelt University in Chicago after a year in Barcelona where she taught English.
It was in Chicago where she finally took her passion from giving back from volunteering to her career. Lauren was the Executive Director of Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE) for 8 years. CORE is a national charity that grants support to children of food and beverage service employees and their families that are navigating life-altering circumstances. She was the recipient of the CORE 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award. After growing CORE to the charity it is today, she left the organization in the Fall of 2019 to find her next challenge.
She landed at Mid-Cumberland Community Action Agency when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, where she served as the Planning Director. At MCCAA they were committed to empowering people and communities in Middle Tennessee toward economic independence. Although her time there was short, it gave her an amazing window into the world of government grants that she carried into her next two roles.
Lauren spent the end of 2020 and the first half of 2021 serving as the External Affairs Director at Project Return. This role brought her personal passion and skill set together in a way she never imagined. At Project Return they were solely dedicated to the successful new beginnings of people who are returning to our community after incarceration. They provided the resources and services needed to gain employment and build full and free lives. As the sister of a formerly incarcerated sibling, Lauren is incredibly passionate about criminal justice reform and support for incarcerated individuals and their families.
From Project Return Lauren took that same passion into her current role at Free Hearts!
Dagan was born and raised in rural West Tennessee. She is the first in her family to attend and graduate college, receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Sciences from the University of Tennessee, Martin in 2013. She served as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate, providing court-based advocacy and support for abused and neglected children as they went through the child welfare and court system. She again returned to UTM, to enroll in grant writing courses and earned a Certificate of Completion in Nonprofit Fundraising. Soon after, he took the position of Fundraising Coordinator at CASA of Henderson County, TN, where she organized local community events, promoted community awareness through social media, managed online fundraising and direct mail campaigns and successfully cultivated several new community partnerships.
As a teen, Dagan’s mother was arrested numerous times and ultimately served a combined 13 years in prison on multiple county, state, and federal charges before being released. Inspired by her mother’s hard work to reclaim her life after incarceration and her tenacious resolve to one day have her voting rights restored, Dagan accepted the Free the Vote Fellowship with the Free Hearts organization. In 2020, her mother’s right to vote was restored and she continues to help others do the same.
At home, Dagan is a mother to 3 ineffable children with her husband and best friend of 18 years. She owns Aunt Dae/Humble Designz, a small online home business selling custom shirts, personalized decorations and gifts, and providing event services. Also, she sometimes solves problems and repairs her friends’ laptops when necessary.
Stephanie, a Nashville native, mother of 3 and grandmother of 3, became involved in the judicial system in 2009. She spent a little over 3 years at CDC and TPW as inmate #488668, for her alleged involvement in a murder to hire. Prior to being incarcerated she held her cosmetology license. While incarcerated, she wrote her business plan for her salon, StepInto Styles Studios. Upon her release in 2012 she vowed that she will always be effective and productive. Stephanie is the owner of the following businesses: StepInto Styles Studios established 2012, Steph’s Mini Vending Machines established 2014 and also that year she subcontracted herself out providing security for night club establishments, she’s a motivational speaker, 2018 she obtained her CDL’s, 2019 she tapped into modeling, out of her wholistic healing came Harmonic Healing in 2020 which produces products that she uses on her clients. Understanding that after incarceration everyone deserves a second chance, Stephanie and few other individuals are currently creating 3rd Eye Transport Coop with the great intentions to employ those who are deserving of a second chance. Being apart of the free world and bondage world, Stephanie is determined to be the change that she wants to see and be a advocate for those that need it.
Michelle is a formerly incarcerated mother of three. While severing her sentence, she worked in the Law Library as a law clerk where she helped fellow incarcerated women research their case and petition the courts. She also taught Basic Law classes 1 and 2 in the Education Department. Michelle also received her certification in Business Education and Advanced Business Education.
Though her own experience and her interactions with fellow incarcerated people she became acutely aware of the injustices of our legal system and the serious lack of resources available to women upon their release.
Since her release, Michelle has actively advocated for prison reform and been a dedicated ally of others helping them to turn their lives around by mentoring and connecting them to supportive resources and programs.
Michelle is also heavily involved in the recovery community as a peer support specialist, as well as an ordained minister. She believes early intervention and education is key to preventing others from getting on the wrong path and a strong network of support, continued education and self acceptance is an absolute necessity to lead a successful life after incarceration.
When she is not knee deep pursuing her passion of helping others restore order from chaos to their lives she is emerged in her other passions of real estate investing and spending time with her grandchildren.
I’m 57 years old. I spent 27 months in prison nearly 35 years ago and it still informs many aspects of my life. I promised myself that when I got out of prison, I would work to change what I saw as systemic flaws in both the Justice and Prison systems. While I was in prison, my boyfriend of nearly a decade was shot and killed and my father was diagnosed with and died from leukemia. After about 18 months, I found myself pregnant. The price to pay for that was a violently abusive drunk as a co-parent. It took five years to escape that battlefield. I returned to college and completed my degree. Shortly after completing my undergraduate degree, my health led to my son and I being homeless for a second time. While a guest of Interfaith Hospitality Network (Now: Family Promise of Greater Johnson City), I secured a position with Johnson City Schools as a mentor/tutor for at- and high-risk students. This position to my becoming the Assistant Director of the Family Resource Center for Johnson City Schools. It was around this time that my son suffered a traumatic brain injury. He continues to struggle with neurological issues to this day and I continue as his primary caregiver.
As the nature of afterschool programming changed in Tennessee, my work began to involve primarily Data Management. A couple of years ago, I began my affiliation with CVDAppalachia, research group established by Dr. Hadii Mamudu of East Tennessee State University’s Department of Health Services Management and Policy. While working with Dr. Mamudu, my focus has been on writing grants, journal articles, and abstracts, constructing infographics, scripting research subject communications, and presenting at workshops and conferences. I am no longer working with Johnson City Schools and my involvement in Dr. Mamudu’s research is at a standstill as a result of the University’s response to the current public Health crisis. But I continue to serve as a standing member of the CVDAppalachia Advisory Board and volunteer my proofreading/editing expertise when asked.
Hello, my name is Andrea Murphy, I am a proud mother of 5, grandmother of 18. I’m a recovering addict of 17 yrs. My passion is cooking, spending time with my family, singing in my church choir and my praise group. My dream is to one day to form a Recovery House for women and their children . My quote is. ” I’m glad I dont look like what I’ve been through”!!
Lisa feels it’s our collective responsibility and duty to serve our growing communities struggling with high incarceration and social injustices. She wants to help people that need support and education on bringing families back together. She’s working with Free Hearts to create an atmosphere of change and make a difference in the lives of others To her, freedom means realizing our worth and value and having the ability to choose the narrative of your life’s journey to Peace, without restraints.
Michelle believes it’s time for change and that people deserve a second chance and the resources to be successful. Being part of Free Hearts is important to her because of the information and services we provide to our community and those who have been deemed second rate citizens. To her, true freedom is when everyone has the ability to raise to their desired level of success without unnecessary obstacles purposely placed in that path to keep them oppressed.
As someone who was once incarcerated, Laquita understands the difference a helping hand can make and feels called to help others get to where she is today.
Ronnie is a Clinical Mental Health Therapist from Washington DC. who moved to Nashville TN in 2012, where she graduated from Tennessee State University and later received a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lipscomb University. She aspires to work in vulnerable communities providing support to women and individuals affected by the justice system. She believes everyone has a journey and some of the roads we take can be tough. However, when someone is willing to go through your experiences with you the journey becomes easier. In her free time she enjoys going to the lake and writing poetry.
Email: Ronnie @ freeheartsorg. com
Phone: (615) 745-1117 xt. 706
Keeda is native of Franklin Tennessee, but has resided in Nashville, TN since 2006. Currently she works as the Legal Advisor at Free Hearts, a Non-Profit Organization led by formerly incarcerated women. There they provide support, education and advocacy for families impacted by incarceration and deportation.
Prior to her employment at Free Hearts, Keeda served her community for the past six and a half years as an Assistant Public Defender at the Metro Nashville Public Defender’s Office, where she devoted all of her professional energies and passion representing those charged with crimes. She brought a unique perspective to criminal defense and the justice system, as she herself, had spent almost four years in federal prison as inmate number 00017-011 for her alleged involvement in a drug distribution ring.
In 2002, Prior to graduating from Tennessee State University with a degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology, Keeda was convicted by a federal jury of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Due to the harsh Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws, she was sentenced to serve eighty-four months (7 years) in a federal prison. After several years of appeals, Keeda, was resentenced sixty months (5 years) in federal prison. After serving four years and ten months, Keeda was released from federal prison.
Upon her release, Keeda received her law degree from Nashville School of Law in 2012 and completed her LLM through Stetson University.
Keeda’s story has been featured in several publications. In 2019, she signed a book deal with Seal Press to publish and release her memoir entitled Living Proof. She has also spoken at several conferences and events regarding various issues in the criminal justice system.
Email: Keeda @ freeheartsorg. com
Phone: (615) 745-1117 xt. 705
Gicola is a Black, Southern community organizer and budding political strategist from the East Side of Nashville, TN. She started organizing at fourteen years old, before she even knew what organizing was, and has led campaigns around the issues of predatory lending, police accountability, ending money bail, voting rights restoration, and the criminalization of poverty.
She currently serves as the statewide organizer for Free Hearts, a non-profit led by formerly incarcerated women helping to support, educate, and advocate for families impacted by incarceration. Gicola is focused on building statewide power in TN with a concentration on base building with communities and voters who are traditionally and intentionally left out of the legal and political process.
Gicola has also co-led Participatory Defense Nashville since January 2016, where she regularly organizes with families and community members who are facing incarceration in order to transform the landscape of power in the courtroom.
Prior to her current role, Gicola was instrumental in highlighting the injustice of the money bail system as the manager of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. Gicola spent her time bailing low income Nashvillians out of jail, and raising awareness of the negative effects of pretrial incarceration on families and communities.
After her uncle was killed by a police officer 20 years ago, she was moved to advocate for other families who had similar experiences. Gicola played a key role in building the Justice For Jocques Coalition and Community Oversight Now-Nashville, which helped fuel the renewed push for police accountability in Nashville after the murder of Jocques Clemmons who was gunned down by Nashville police officer in 2017. The coalition made history by forcing a referendum onto the midterm ballot to amend the city’s charter. Gicola successfully coordinated the campaign to a 59% victory in November of 2018 despite being outspent 30 to 1.
Gicola carries the vulnerable and unheard stories of injustice with her daily to fight for change. She is passionate about getting free, and has a deep love for community.
When she’s not organizing or talking politics, she is listening to her granny tell her stories about growing up on a farm, listening to old school music, being a HBCU marching band enthusiast, or traveling. Gicola is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University.
Email: Gicola @ freeheartsorg. com
Phone: (615) 745-1117 xt. 703
Dawn is the Executive Director of Free Hearts is also the Director of Special Projects for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Recording Industry Management and Public Relations from Middle Tennessee State University and a Master of Business Administration degree in Information Technology from Bethel University. During her incarceration, Dawn was disturbed by the impact of incarceration on families, especially moms and kids, and inspired to make a difference upon her release. Today, Harrington is Director of Special Projects of National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Just Leadership USA fellow, advisory board member for Nashville Defenders and Unheard Voices Outreach, and Executive Director of Free Hearts that was created to reunite families and keep families together by providing support, education, and advocacy, organizing families impacted by incarceration.
Email: dawn @ freeheartsorg. com
Phone (615) 745-1117 xt. 702
Jawharrah was born in a Portsmith, VA Military Hospital. Since her dad was in the Navy, Bahar’s family travelled often. Growing up with domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues, Bahar experienced a chaotic family environment which led her to have severe behavioral problems. In 2010, she was arrested and served 3 years and 7 months. After battling issues of homelessness, unemployment, and child custody, she has now committed to healing and reconnecting with her children by prioritizing their mental health. In the fall of 2016, Jawharrah joined Free Hearts, an organization that educates, advocates, and supports families impacted by incarceration. As Director of Outreach, she has contributed to legislation, spoken at community events, participated in local advocacy campaigns, and raised community awareness through social media videos. Jawharrah is an owner of Lashing Artistry –where she provides luxury services such as mink eyelash extensions and brows promoting women’s entrepreneurship. No matter what Jawharrah does, she will continue to fight for social justice and community-based alternatives to incarceration and social entrepreneurship.
Email: Jawharrah @ freeheartsorg. com
Phone: (615) 745-1117 xt. 704
Aniya is a formerly wrongfully incarcerated and having served four undeserved years for the alleged aggravated abuse and neglect of her then 1 year young son due to an accidental fall, is the proud mother of Malachi 12, Malachia 11 and twins Kaiden and Kaylen 18 months. While being a homeschooling parent and young woman of many talents and aspirations, Aniya is pursuing entrepreneurship in her clothing line, Renove Par Juni alongside working to complete and publish two of her fiction novels, and designing and engineering physical therapy equipment for disabled toddlers beginning with her very own disabled child. She is a founding member and director of Free Hearts who teaches and facilitates classes and support groups for women and children impacted by incarceration. Last but not least, because of her firm belief in justice for women, girls and The People, integrity, accountability, responsibility, and dignity, Aniya has worked sleeplessly, yet eagerly with Free Hearts to create, pass and implement the Primary Caregiver Law which was recently signed into legislation on July 1st of this year and moves to work more with legislation that suits the living of all people.
Email: Aniya @ freeheartsorg. com
Phone: (615) 745-1117 xt. 701
Sandra is an advocate and trainer who helps formerly incarcerated men and women restore their voting rights. She believes the work we do at Free Hearts is life-changing and feels blessed to be able to help change lives. To Sandra, freedom means overcoming and no longer living by the bondage of our past and being able to become productive in all areas of life.