The Ahimsa Collective
Organizational Staff, Facilitators & Collaborators
CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR (FOUNDING)
sonya shah initiated the Ahimsa Collective in 2016. She is also an associate professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Central to her core values are nurturing community belonging and collective care, healing, compassion, love and transforming harm. She is a Buddhist, a first-generation immigrant from the Northwestern part of India and feels most at home in nature. She has two amazing children who remind her what it means to be in love all of the time, and currently resides in northern California.
Richard Cruz has been with the Ahimsa Collective since 2018. He is native and his relations are through his mother (Georgia) Assiniboine Sioux, Nakota, and Arapaho. He also has an american college education and has earned Certifications as a Substance Abuse Treatment Counselor and Communications Technician. He currently holds a position as the Co-Executive Director. He believes in celebrating our differences, new experiences and healing our communities and history. He lives in the Bay Area of California.
ASSOCIATE SOCIAL WORKER
I was born and raised in the East Bay, CA, and identify as a biracial (Mexican-American and white), queer/pansexual, woman. I received my Masters in Social Work in 2022 and work as an Associate Social Worker at The Ahimsa Collective. As an abolitionist and as someone whose family has been impacted by the U.S. criminal legal system, a part of my journey also includes challenging the field of social work’s complicity with the carceral system and uplifting alternative responses to harm that create true safety and wholeness for all communities. I have spent much of my adult life working in Bay Area restorative justice organizations helping to create transformative, healing spaces for women of color survivors of sexual harm, currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, and youth in Oakland and Richmond schools. Some of my greatest joys include spending time with friends and family, playing in nature, and bearing witness to the magic that is possible when we say yes to healing.
Julian Ward believes it is possible and necessary to heal from harm and restore our inherent connections with one another and the Earth. His focus is on shifting a culture of fear, isolation, and domination to one of love, nurturance, and interdependence.
MARTINA LUTZ SCHNEIDER
Martina was introduced to Restorative Justice by Dominic Barter in 2003 through her engagement with Nonviolent Communication. She is a devoted RJ advocate and has volunteered in school and prison settings. She received her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco with a focus in Restorative Justice and a Conflict Resolution Certificate from Sonoma State University.
In 2015 Martina began facilitating Victim Offender Dialogues in severe and violent crimes in California State prisons through Insight Prison Project. She now collaborates directly with the Office of Victim and Survivors Rights and Services (OVSRS/CDCR) and serves as a VOD consultant and VOD lead facilitator.
MFT / FACILITATOR
Maegan Willan is a licensed psychotherapist working with activist and queer communities in private practice in Berkeley, CA. Since first falling in love with Restorative Justice she has been blessed to learn with many inspiring circle keepers in the field. She has worked in prisons, schools and with groups of survivors of crime, as well as facilitating Victim Offender Dialogues and community healing processes. Informed by the wild possibility of restoring safety and trust within families and communities impacted by gendered and intimate harm, and by her own history, this work has been the most transformative in her life and a place of deep belonging.
Maegan Willan co-created the Restorative Approaches to Intimate Violence Program at Valley State Prison, and is a VOD facilitator.
Bonnie Wills received her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Ecology at John F. Kennedy University, a Masters in Culture and Spirituality at Holy Names University, and a Masters in Religion and Philosophy at California Institute of Integral Studies. She is a Certified Diversity Facilitator, and a Restorative Justice Facilitator and Trainer. She has facilitated Restorative Justice Circles at San Quentin Prison, and COSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) groups for formerly incarcerated youth. She has facilitated healing/training circles at California Institute of Integral Studies, Cal State East Bay and Holy Names University. She completed the Merritt College Community Mental Health Advocates certification training. She currently facilitates training for the re-entry pod at San Francisco Jail, Valley State Prison. and various community organizations. Bonnie is committed to a compassionate, just, and inclusive planet. Through her work, she strives to support the eradication of social injustice and inspire. She currently facilitates training for healing within our homes, workplaces, communities, institutions, and the planet.
Bonnie Wills facilitates Restorative Circles for families and organizations.
IN LOVING MEMORY
Our beloved Kashka Banjo passed away in 2022. He was an integral and incredibly special part of our Core Family and facilitator team.
Kashka was granted a Master of Arts degree at Starr King School for the Ministry, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State University. He facilitated Restorative Justice Circles at San Quentin Prison, Valley State Prison, and in the re-entry pod at the San Francisco Jail. He also worked with COSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) with formerly incarcerated youth through RJOY. He facilitated training circles at California Institute of Integral Studies, Cal State East Bay and Holy Names University. Kashka sought to restore wholeness and purpose in the lives of individuals, including his own, one circle at a time.
GRANT WRITER / FACILITATOR
Dave Belden has been facilitating restorative justice oriented groups in prisons and jails since 2012. He is a writer, editor and occasional college teacher. His eclectic work life has included 20 years as a carpenter, 10 as a corporate writer for engineers, 4 as managing editor of the spiritual progressive magazine Tikkun, and two published science fiction novels. His heart is with restorative justice and peacemaking, as the most effective response to harms from the individual to societal levels, including the massive harms caused by Europeans’ centuries-long drive for dominance. He emigrated from England to marry his American love; they have been together over 35 years and have one son.
nuri nusrat hopes to bring love and compassion to those she has the honor of working with. She has 6 years of experience in restorative justice and over 15 years supporting those impacted by the criminal legal system. She’s had the privilege of training incredible people in circle process and restorative community conferencing models and has co-facilitated direct dialogues about harm, accountability, and support. She believes the collective has more wisdom than she could ever hold alone and values collaboration as a fundamental part of restorative justice work. nuri’s parents were both child sexual abuse survivors, amongst many other identities, including fiercely loving and often hilarious parents. This motivates her to create opportunities that her parents didn’t have-for communities to work together to acknowledge harm, seek accountability without shaming, and to support those impacted and each other. She cares deeply for all those who have experienced, done, and been affected by harm.
COLLABORATOR / TRAINING CO-FACILITATOR
Troy Williams is a media expert who develops transformative stories for social change through his production company and nonprofit in the Bay Area, California. When incarcerated he directed the San Quentin Prison Restorative Justice Roundtable, raising prisoner participation from less than 40 to over 200, and founded the award-winning San Quentin Prison Report media production company.
Troy Williams is a collaborator on restorative justice movement building and training co-facilitator.
SAMANTHA LYNNE WILSON
RESTORATIVE PRACTICES CONSULTANT / FACILITATOR
Samantha Lynne Wilson (MA, M.Div, PhD ABD) is a community psychologist, spiritual care provider, and restorative practices consultant and facilitator in Los Angeles, CA. From 2008-2013, she founded an international youth organizing collective, collaborating with other young adults to organize over 500 youth across the USA, India, and Mexico on transnational dialogues and action in their local communities. Experiences of inequity and abuse within families, communities, and institutions led her to pursue her Masters in Divinity at Claremont School of Theology, focusing her work on faith-rooted organizing and nonprofit management. Informed by her spiritual call, she worked as an intern chaplain, completing 1200 hours of clinical pastoral education in Los Angeles, providing interfaith care in public hospitals, jails, and in re-entry nonprofits. She is a candidate for Unitarian Universalist ministry and a PhD candidate in Community, Liberation, and Ecological Depth Psychologies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. She does her work in honor of generations of family members who caused and experienced harm in the midst of systemic oppressions, and to the incarcerated great-grandfather her family never met.
Samantha Lynne Wilson is a consultant for restorative practices in faith-based and community organizations.
Kazu Haga is the founder and Coordinator of the East Point Peace Academy, is a trainer in Kingian Nonviolence and teaches various aspects of nonviolence, restorative justice and mindfulness. Born in Tokyo, Japan, he has been engaged in social change work since the age of 17, and has played leading roles in various social movements. He works to empower incarcerated communities, young people and activists around the country. He currently resides in Oakland, CA.
Sachi Maniar runs a non-profit, Ashiyana, which aims to transform the lives of vulnerable children and children in conflict with the law within closed institutions in India. Her journey to build peace began as a student and continued through her film making career and her equally committed volunteer work. She works with diverse stakeholders in Mumbai's complex juvenile justice system which often includes other national and international agencies. No matter the role she inhabits she manages to bring hope to the children and to be a catalyst for inner transformation for all.
Sachi Maniar is a collaborator on restorative justice movement building in India.
Ian Navas is formerly incarcerated and served a nine year sentence. Ian went to jail when he was 18 years old. During his time in prison he experienced multiple instances of violence and abuse, which caused profound psychological and emotional trauma. While participating in one of The Ahimsa Collective's programs at Valley State Prison, Ian was able to engage in courageous conversations that helped him transform his negative experiences into a powerful tool to help others. After release from prison, Ian has been active in helping others who have suffered traumatic experiences like himself with the goal to transform victimization into survival.
Karen Lischinsky is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Curry College, where she teaches on issues of social justice. She founded the Transformational Prison Project (TPP) to bring the principles and practices of restorative justice to the Massachusetts prison system. Restorative Justice is founded on making possible courageous conversations that have the power to be transformative and connecting for survivors, for those who are subject to incarceration, and to the society as a whole. The power of restorative justice is that it centers the voices of those who have been harmed, while supporting those who are willing to take responsibility for the harm they have caused. Kischinsky received her PhD in Sociology from Northeastern University, and her MSW from Boston University.
Karen Lischinsky is a collaborator on the Trauma Education Project for Law Enforcement and Systems Professionals.
My name is Steven Hua, I’m 49 years old. I work for the Bay Area Community Services (BACS) as a Housing Coordinator at Fremont South County Wellness Center. There I get to serve the homeless, facilitate groups (Anger Management and Stress Management) and give one-on-one support services. I love my job because I get to do something I enjoy and am meant for. I was given a second chance so that helps me have understanding for what it’s like to be helpless and hopeless. More importantly, to have compassion and empathy. At BACS our mission is to uplift under-served individuals and their families by doing whatever it takes.
sujatha baliga’s work is characterized by an equal dedication to victims and persons accused of crimes. She speaks publicly and inside prisons about her own experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse and her path to forgiveness. A former victim advocate and public defender in New York and New Mexico, baliga was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2008 which she used to launch a pre-charge restorative juvenile diversion program in Alameda County. Through the Restorative Justice Project baliga helps communities implement restorative justice alternatives to juvenile detention and zero-tolerance school discipline policies. She is also dedicated to using this approach to end child sexual abuse and intimate partner violence. sujatha is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and conferences; she’s been a guest on NPR and the Today Show; and The New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic have profiled her work. She earned her A.B. from Harvard College, her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and has held two federal clerkships. A long-time Buddhist practitioner, she is a lay member of the Gyuto Foundation, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Richmond, CA, where she teaches meditation on Monday nights.
sujatha baliga is a collaborator.
VALLEY STATE PRISON INCARCERATED FACILITATORS
The Ahimsa collective has seven in-prison facilitators at Valley State prison who are equally responsible for the Restorative Approaches to Intimate Violence program at Valley State Prison. They co-lead the curriculum, have an in-depth understanding of restorative justice and trauma healing, foster the agency of each participant, and critically-self reflect on their own process of teaching and learning. In addition to technical facilitation skills, they have the wisdom of personal experience and knowledge about their incarcerated community that makes them excellent facilitators.
DANIEL JACOB SELF
daniel jacob self is a dancer, performing artist, group facilitator, and therapist in training currently pursuing his Master's degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Somatic Psychotherapy. His undergraduate degree is in Interdisciplinary Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies, focusing on privilege, positionality, and embodiment. Coming from a family with a legacy of sexual abuse, daniel is a firm believer in the power of relationships, community, and courageous vulnerability to help heal trauma, isolation, and shame.
ANA MARIA HURTADO
FACILITATOR / COLLABORATOR
Born and raised in Colombia with a multicultural educational background, Ana Maria was introduced to Restorative Justice while she was completing her Master’s Degree on East and West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Restorative Justice has added another layer of meaning to the work she does in the world and an opportunity to reconcile with paradox. She is also a SoulCollage® and Guided Imagery Facilitator and is committed to holding space for soul and spiritual inquiry. Ana Maria is also convinced humor is a key component to healing.
Ana Maria Hurtado is a collaborator for restorative practices in Colombia.
For 16 years, Nicole Pittman worked solely on stopping the abusive practice of placing children on sex offender registries. Nicole has seen how our most vulnerable children get caught in the crosshairs of legislation intended to combat crimes against children, and how this practice perpetuates the cycle of abuse. This led Nicole to think deeply about how to move her work beyond fixing the existing system to addressing the root causes of sexual harm. To this end, Nicole is now focusing on co-creating a “Roadmap” to the future of ending child sexual abuse that is bold, exciting, healing &, does not depend on or center the carceral system. She is excited to imagine and build with partners like Ahimsa Collective, a world where we work upstream and transform the conditions that allow child sexual abuse to occur.
Nicole Pittman is a VOD facilitator with the Ahimsa Collective.
AJ achieved his Bachelors of Science Degree in Financial Accounting at Far Eastern University, Philippines. He also graduated with high honors in achieving his degree in Sociology. He received his Customer Service Specialist Certification from Electronics Technician Association (ETA). AJ is a facilitator of Restorative Justice, Anger Management and Domestic Violence. As a facilitator, he is never afraid to share his insights and vulnerability. He is supportive of every member of the group - warm, available to talk, seeking connection, healing and accountability. According to AJ, “I believe in championing all beauty, living with courage, and standing fearlessly together to celebrate our differences. I will never stop building a community where diversity is expected, self-expression is honored, and equality is valued. ALL are welcomed, and YOU are included. Because I believe we belong to something beautiful.”
A.J. Urriza is a collaborator with the Ahimsa Collective for restorative justice practices in the Philippines.
Henry Ortiz is a Leadership Trainer, Community Organizer, Youth Mentor, and Prison Reform Advocate. In 2005 Henry Co-Founded The Self-Awareness and Recovery non-profit organization. While serving a 21 year prison sentence, Henry started writing and teaching trauma informed emotional intelligence workshops. He also became a trained mediator and Toast Master. Three months after his release, Henry was featured in the New York times, Univison and various articles published by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR). On his six month out of prison, Henry received a grant by the California Endowment Foundation to do his first Schools Not Prison Documentary. During his free time Henry enjoys song writing and playing the guitar.
Shell received a Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Critical Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies. She works with children who are on the Autism Spectrum as a Clinical Specialist and enjoys the difference she is making in these children’s lives. Shell also has a passion for restorative justice and the importance of having alternate outlooks on crime and harm. Shell goes to Valley State Prison as a facilitator in training . Her drive for this work comes from Shell’s survival of indirect gun violence, childhood sexual abuse, as well as a step-parent incarcerated. Shell’s cocktail of life experiences has placed her right where she needs to be and she is very grateful to practice healing for herself and others. Communal healing has been extremely beneficial for Shell’s personal journey and she seeks to send that back into the universe. Áse.
K. NOËL AMHERD
Working with schools throughout the State of California, Noël facilitates dialogues and trains school administrators and staff to develop restorative disciplinary responses, building a culture of healthy youth and adult relationships of mutual responsibility and repair. When needing a restorative dialogue, Noël facilitated community dialogue for the Sudanese Association of Northern California as an example of his work also with community organizations. For five years, Noël's been a regular participant in the San Quentin State Prison’s Interfaith Restorative Justice Symposia out of which he became a volunteer chaplain for the men-in-blue in general population and on death row who worship Ifá/Òrìsà, the indigenous tradition of the Yorùbá of whom Noël is an initiated babaláwo in the Ijèbú-Rémo area of Nigeria. His book, Reciting Ifá: Difference, Heterogeneity and Identity is published by Africa World Press. Noël received his Doctorate from the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, UK and his Master's in Anthropology from Cal State, Hayward. Noël is currently co-directing a documentary film on the origin and perpetuation of racial construction and violence in the United States.
Noël Amherd is a VOD facilitator with the Ahimsa Collective.
Rachelle Schiller received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at Fresno Pacific University. She was first involved in Restorative Justice work when she became a mediator at Community Justice Conferencing in Fresno, CA. Rachelle mediated conflict between those who were identified as youth offenders by the Juvenile Justice Court and the victims of their crime, and conflict between the youth offenders and their families. Rachelle has now transitioned to working with adults as the case manger for COSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) Fresno, where she works to provide support for those returning to the community after incarceration. Rachelle’s commitment to this work is rooted from her mother’s journey of healing and her grandparents’ support for healing.
Jessica Harris is currently pursuing her Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology at Alliant International University-Fresno. She has worked with individuals with developmental disabilities, juveniles, college students, and clients in an outpatient clinic. She was introduced to Restorative Justice in 2017 through her volunteer work with Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA). She currently serves as a team member of a COSA-Fresno circle and participates as a volunteer in a monthly Restorative Approaches to Intimate Partner Violence group at Valley State Prison. Being trained on the practices of restorative justice was a transformative moment in her life and she has witnessed the power of circles as a tool for helping individuals on their journey towards healing.
Originally from New York City, Jenny is deeply committed to dismantling systems of oppression born and bred of white supremacy. Over the last eight years, Jenny's work has been focused primarily on disrupting cycles of mass incarceration by addressing the interpersonal and systemic root causes of harm through restorative justice processes. As a survivor with loved ones impacted by the criminal legal system, this work calls Jenny to tear down binaries and embrace the subtleties, complexities, and nuances of everyone's humanity and capacity to cause harm. Central to her is the power of relationships, community, goofiness, belonging, courageous vulnerability, and love as a means for individual and collective healing. Jenny uses she/her pronouns.
Jaime Leyva was born is Los Angeles, California and is currently residing in the Central Valley. He is employed with COSA-Fresno, a nonprofit organization that facilitates a support network for individuals re-entering free society. He is a Substance Use Disorder Counselor and Mediator. Jaime is formally incarcerated, and while incarcerated he became a practitioner of non-violence and was a mentor for two different programs for at-risk youth, a facilitator of various self-help groups (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/Intervention, Criminal Thinking, Anger Management, Denial Management, Victims Impact, Alternative to Violence Project, Substance Abuse) and a Peer Counselor in the Substance Use Disorder Treatment Program for the last ten years of his incarceration. In 2019, Jaime was trained in Victim Offender Dialogues. He is committed to creating a safe space for those that seek healing and collaborates with others in Restorative Justice efforts to create a healing culture.
COLLABORATOR / RESTORATIVE JUSTICE FELLOW
Misty loves inspiring others through talks on Compassion, Leadership, Personal Development, and Community Mental Wellness. She is the founder of Misty Franklin Speaks. With great promise as a young teen on her way to college and beyond Misty connected with the wrong person that through a series of wrong decisions landed her in prison. Through that brief journey along with her powerful self-education, Misty has become a new woman, a mentor, speaker, and advocate.
Misty Franklin is a Restorative Justice Fellow with The Ahimsa Collective.
Kony Kim is a writer, a question asker, and a second-generation Korean American. Born to immigrants and war survivors, she spent childhood repeatedly relocating along the west coast, and has called the Bay Area home since 2006. She brings her teaching, counseling, and mediation skills -- along with over a decade of experience co-holding healing & accountability processes in carceral settings -- to her work as a restorative justice practitioner. Kony treasures her curiosity as one of her core traits, and as an essential force that moves her to heal herself, to understand the secret reasons behind human behaviors, and to explore all the layers of human conflict. At heart, Kony is a story crafter, and she loves to play with words.
ADRIANA BELTRAME DOS SANTOS KELLER
Adriana started her studies with Visual Arts in Brazil. While in the art world, she became very interested in the expression of the depths of human psyche and eventually took the next step in her studies engaging in independent research on themes such as Mythology, Astrology, Archetypes, Fairytales, Philosophy, Anthroposophy, Non-violent Communication, Ecopsychology and Meditation. She has experience working as teacher, lecturer, writing and creativity tutor, group facilitator for Brazilian immigrants in the US and as counselor for nature-based programs for children and teenagers. She recently completed the MA in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and has combined different skills and tools to support people in rediscovering inner peace and liberation.
Eliza is committed to community-centered autonomous responses to harm and violence. She’s been involved in work around restorative justice, sexual violence, and criminalization for the last 5 years and strives to create pathways for individual and collective healing. She also organizes with groups supporting inside/outside collaboration and prison solidarity work, primarily California Coalition for Women Prisoners. She believes deeply in the power of transformative work, like that of the Ahimsa Collective, to shift the structures that feed violence.
Monica Garcia has a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice and will soon be finishing her Masters Degree in Peacemaking and Conflict Studies from Fresno Pacific. As a follower of Jesus, her desire is to continue participating in the healing process with other awesome people and a witness to see them become the person God has called them to be. She loves to travel, make new friends, and drink coffee.
Elaine Leeder, MSW, MPH, PhD is a Professor of Sociology and Dean Emerita at Sonoma State University. For the last 25 years she has worked in prisons in New York and California, first running groups and education programs. Now she does Victim/Offender Dialogues. She is the recipient of many awards, including a Real Hero Award from the Red Cross for her work in prisons. Her book, My Life with Lifers: Lessons for a Teacher, Humanity has no Bars, has been used in universities around the country and documents her work inside Elmira Correctional Facility and San Quentin. Leeder enjoys this type of work, being interested in why people commit crimes. Her father was a Holocaust refugee, so the issue is close to home.
Elaine Leeder is a VOD facilitator.
James Mackey is from Stockton, California, where he now works as a Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) Community Health Worker with Community Medical Centers (CMC). Before joining TCN and CMC he worked as a peer counselor and housing coordinator serving the homeless of Fremont with Bay Area Community Services. James received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in 1987 and a Master of Humanities degree from CSU Dominguez Hills in 2008. Twenty-five years as a participant, facilitator, and mentor in self-help programs and 7 years as a mental health aide while incarcerated prepared James for many roles, but none could have fit better than the role of a TCN community health worker. In this position James is able to assist returning community members with reentry by helping them with medical and behavioral healthcare navigation, SUD services, food, clothing, jobs, housing, and by being someone our brothers and sisters can turn to when they need someone who understands where they are coming from.
LEAD VOD FACILITATOR
René Rivera is a leader and bridge-builder, working and learning in all the spaces in-between race, gender, and other perceived binaries, as a queer, mixed-race, trans man. René teaches heart-centered, trauma-informed meditation and mindfulness practices, and serves as a circlekeeper for the Restorative Practices Sangha, at the East Bay Meditation Center. René is a lead VOD facilitator, and is a facilitator in the Restorative Approaches to Intimate Violence program, for the Ahimsa Collective. René is committed to bringing healing to the experience of sexual and gender based violence, especially for men and masculine people, and those who have done harm.
Sima Savdharia is a formally trained trilingual Mediator, Kingian Nonviolence trainer, and Restorative Justice practitioner, with a decade of experience working in the realm of conflict transformation. She is a graduate of USF’s “Urban Education and Social Justice” M.A. program and The East Bay Meditation Center’s “Practice in Transformative Action” program.
Her professional experiences include working as a classroom educator, being a Mediator and Case Manager for SEEDS Community Resolution Center, and consulting for various nonprofits including Community Boards and The Bay Area Roller Derby. She currently hosts community circles and leads resident advocacy at The Northern CA Land Trust. She is also an independent contractor with The Ahimsa Collective where she has been trained to facilitate VODs (Victim Offender Dialogues), support the RJC (Restorative Justice in Community) program, and the REALIZE (an alternative approach to intimate partner violence) program at Valley State Prison.
She strives to bring a gentle candor and pro-peoples analysis to all that she does. Read more about her work at simasavdharia.com
COLLABORATOR & FACILITATOR
Kimberly Gragston believes that individual and collective healing and wholeness are possible. She is committed to work alongside others in the community to create a safe environment to talk about what led to harm, the impact, and a way forward. Her own experience as a survivor of sexual harm and intimate violence has shaped her understanding and the importance of embracing belonging and relationships as necessary companions on this journey of healing. Kimberly feels grateful to have been introduced to Restorative Justice through the amazing work of COSA Fresno. She is currently the Administrator for The Community Justice Center, loves to hike, and resides with her family in Fresno, CA.
Kimberly Gragston is a VOD facilitator and is a facilitator in the Restorative Approaches to Intimate Violence program in prison.
Deirdre Wilson is Co-Chair of Unchained Scholars, a student interest group in the graduate school of social work at University of Southern California where she is pursuing a master’s degree in social work. Since her release from prison in 2005, she has worked in various capacities to build healthy and resilient community centering practices of Restorative and Transformative Justice. Deirdre has been a member of California Coalition for Women Prisoners since 2010 and served as Program Coordinator for three years. Deirdre has spent the last several years working as a counselor in residential recovery. She had the privilege of facilitating a meditation group with men in recovery that deepened her appreciation of the sacredness of our unity as human beings within our vast diversity of expression.
Deirdre Wilson is a VOD facilitator.
Julie Hilt is a Restorative Justice practitioner with a wide range of experience. She co-facilitated the first restorative conference with a death row inmate at San Quentin and facilitated a victim-offender group with adult lifers for two years. Currently, she runs three weekly restorative justice groups with incarcerated youth and manages a youth diversion program in the community that has maintained an 85% success rate for three years in a row. In 2018, she started a mentor program for incarcerated youth, matching trained community members with youth in detention. In 2019, her company received a grant from the California Youth Reinvestment Fund to create a county-wide diversion program for high school students. This is part of an initiative to reduce the racial and ethnic disparity in the juvenile justice system. Julie is the founder of Alternative Restorative Communities (ARC), and is very proud to say that 50% of her colleagues are returning citizens. She is a licensed trainer for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), and is currently pursuing accreditation with the United Kingdom Restorative Justice Council.
Julie Hilt is a VOD facilitator.
Miguel Quezada is a spanish language facilitator that has contributed to establishing several rehabilitative, educational and restorative justice focused programs. He is co-founder of the Adult Peer Education Project in San Quentin State Prison where he created a peer-to-peer education curriculum and was an instructor helping students earn their diplomas and enroll in higher education. He was a certified rape counselor and crisis pevention counseler with Bay Area Women Against Rape, a certified Batterer Intervention Program facilitator with the Marin County Probation Department as a service provider with the Guiding Rage into Power Program (GRIP) at San Quentin State Prison, was managing editor of the monthly publication San Quentin News and has helped establish the bilingual curriculum programs Personal Insight Exploration and GRIP in Avenal State Prison. Miguel has a background in community organizing and as a policy manager working on criminal justice reform in California.
Karen is driven by a commitment to collective trauma-healing, community building, and truth-telling around historical harms. She has five years of experience in restorative justice and has been honored to be a part of the Realize Community at Valley State Prison since August 2018. She has also facilitated trainings in community circles, harm circles, and restorative community conferencing models though her work on the Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice. Prior to that, Karen worked on community development and peace leadership programming in Myanmar for several years, igniting her firm belief in the ability of youth to bridge difference and transform community. She holds an M.A. in Conflict Analysis and Transformation from the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Karen uses she/her pronouns.
Conly is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist working with Bay Area elders and youth. She has a background in theatre performance, arts based facilitation, and an MA in Counseling Psychology and Expressive Arts Therapy. Currently a PHD candidate in Expressive Arts at the European Graduate School at Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Conly is dedicated to exploring the intersections of Expressive Arts and restorative practices towards the acknowledgement of power and privilege, collective healing and communal peacebuilding.
IN-PRISON PROGRAM MANAGER
Alba Contreras was born in South Central, Los Angeles, she lived most of her life and teenage years there before moving to the Central Valley. She received her Bachelor's degree in Criminology with an emphasis in Victimology from Fresno State University. She has worked with both adults and minors throughout her career and is now happy to be a part of The Ahimsa Collective. Her family has been impacted by the Criminal Justice System, and because of that she is hopeful that there can be positive change if we all work together and continue to work through our trauma and into our healing journey.
BARBARA VAN SICKLE
COLLABORATOR / FACILITATOR
Barbara’s passion for social justice and her nonprofit, psychology and legal background led her to the place she is today. As a former entertainment attorney, public defender, and legal advocate, Barbara has expanded her life-long desire to effect change in the system and in the lives of system-impacted individuals to a new arena. She co-founded the nonprofit organization, ReEvolution, where she supports the healing of incarcerated youth offenders and the formerly incarcerated community. She continues to marvel at the power of the circle, community and restorative practices through her collaboration with the Ahimsa Collective.
COLLABORATOR / FACILITATOR
Kristy's life focus is on community building. Having a keen awareness of the interconnectedness of life, she believes in the notion that a high tide raises all ships. Kristy started this path as a restorative justice mediator in 2002 and has since worked for various nonprofits aimed at providing inclusion, equality, and empowerment to underserved populations. She has been working with system impacted people since 2017 both in and out of prisons, now as co-founder of ReEvolution and also collaborating with the Ahimsa Collective.
Kevin Skipper serves the Ahimsa Collective as a facilitator for the Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) program. He previously served as a volunteer facilitator for the Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG) in San Quentin State Prison and currently serves as a professional facilitator with Stronghold in the support of transforming community organizations via restorative practices. Kevin combines his 30+ years of financial services consultation and 17 years as a real estate broker as a platform for addressing historical harm and creating a pathway to equity and social justice. A California native and lifelong Bay Area resident, he understands the connection between acknowledging harm, creating accountability, and setting the stage for equity inclusion and collaboration as a basis for building strong healing communities. He is a father of three and a grandfather of two. He loves yoga, good food, and exceptional conversation.
Kevin Skipper is a VOD facilitator.
My name is Elle Dowdy and I am delighted to be a member of the Ahimsa Collective. I come to this work as a result of the death of my 24 year old daughter, Emily, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2009 in Pacific Beach. On January 15, 2019, I had a conversation (VOD) with Alan, the man responsible for her death at San Quentin prison. The dialogue was facilitated by members of the Ahimsa Collective. I was part of a process that brought healing to myself and Alan in ways that I hadn’t imagined possible and it became my heart’s desire to work for Ahimsa in some way. I have participated in victim impact awareness groups in several prisons and have taken the VOD facilitator training last summer. I turned 70 this year and I have lived a lifetime wanting to be of use—wanting to be a source of love and kindness. My daughter’s death nearly ended my own life and to be given the chance to redeem her death by doing this work of healing and redemption is amazing. Love truly does win!
As a woman and proximate leader who has been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, I'm passionate and committed to building the collective healing power of women and directly impacted survivors of mass incarceration and other systemic trauma. I have dedicated my life's work to advocating for social and restorative justice for survivors of oppressed communities. The ability to problem-solve, build coalitions and capacity, while centering the wholeness of the people I serve are skills I've developed both in my personal life and in the field; organizing communities, practicing compassion and exercising empathy, and facilitating healthy dialogue between diverse groups to foster community and reconciliation.
Rasheed Stanley-Lockheart is a formerly incarcerated person who has spent most of his adult life incarcerated. Growing up in a world surrounded by toxic-masculinity, Rasheed was able to find the love, empathy and emotional connections he needed to hold space for healing. He participated and facilitated groups within the prisons like S.Q.U.I.R.E.S., VOEG, and a mens healing circle. Most recently Rasheed worked with a grass roots orginization Called Planting Justice where he worked as a Reentry coordinator. This became a life-long journey that would center his focus around currently and formerly incarcerated people.Having spent over two decades of his life incarcerated, Rasheed brings to his work his firsthand experience with the criminal justice system and his ability to navigate complex issues and ambiguous environments. In addition to his work with The Ahimsa Collective, Rasheed also serves as an advocate for Formerly Incarcerated people and has been featured in multiple media outlets. Most recently Rasheed has been a strong advocate in helping to change a law (AB2147) that barred Formerly Incarcerated Firefighters from getting EMT certifications which would allow them to seek firefighting careers post incarceration.
SETH LENNON NGUYEN-WEINER
LIFE COMES FROM IT PROGRAM OFFICER
I am a restorative justice enthusiast and advocate, originally from Los Angeles, now living in Weehawken, New Jersey with my wife and three children. I came of age around incredible peacemakers and healers who helped demonstrate to me how healing and justice can be woven together. I am inspired, nourished and humbled to learn from, support and simply know the Life Comes From It Advisory Board, donors, and grantees. I have been pursuing questions about right-relationship in the face of hurt and harm for many years now. I find that there is always more to learn, more reasons to laugh, to grieve and to stand in awe of the beauty.
A heart for people, an advocate in the movement to end mass incarceration, a voice for my husband and all my incarcerated loved ones. I thrive to tear down systems in place and show compassion, love, and healing processes in its place. I’m currently working with Initiate Justice as a Facilitator for the Institute of Impacted Leaders Program; I also have facilitated a cohort with Essie Justice Group-Healing to Advocacy and presently engaging in new ways to learn, grow and expand my knowledge of healing and love with all the new blessings God allows me to see through love and compassion.
Sheri Wiedenhoefer is the Executive Director of the Community Justice Center (CJC) in Fresno, CA. CJC seeks to advance community safety, shared responsibility, and healing through evidence-based programming, research, and community-wide training. Previous to that, she was the Director of the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University for three years. From 2006-2014 she served as the Executive Director of the West Coast Mennonite Central Committee
Brenda was born and raised in the Bay Area. She graduated with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. She has a background in advocacy and experience in the protection of human rights. Brenda has traveled to over 15 countries to learn more about how other countries and cultures view punishment and healing. As a system-impacted Indigenous woman, she has a long-term goal to be able to advocate and amplify the voices of people facing injustices, by fostering agency and helping them heal while reaching liberation. Through her work, she hopes to serve the people of her community by replacing systems of punishment and oppression with paradigms grounded in healing, relationship, and love.
David Carranza was born and raised in Los Angeles and is currently a student at UC Berkeley, pursuing an Interdisciplinary Degree with an emphasis on Financial Education & Real Estate. As a person who has been impacted by the carcel system, David believes in breaking intergenerational cycles of incarceration, violence, poverty, and barriers to higher education. He has experience in assisting nonprofit organizations in establishing the necessary financial systems and strategic planning for sustainable growth and maximizing impact in the communities they serve. David’s hope is to empower communities and change the narrative of how those from “untraditional” backgrounds are perceived.
REENTRY PROGRAM COORDINATOR
I grew up in Southern California and came to the Bay Area in 2010 as a returning citizen. I am a thankful community teacher and student. I humbly learn each and every day from others. Hopefully, I thoughtfully share life lessons with others on this journey of mine. A passion of mine is when I am able to co-create with others, especially healing spaces. Spaces where we can collectively reveal our truest self and navigate the intersection of personal healing and collective healing through restorative practices.
TOMMY "SHAKUR" ROSS
Tommy "Shakur" Ross paroled in 2022, after being imprisoned for over 36 years. In 2012, Shakur helped launch the radio program at San Quentin, producing stories for KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco. In 2017, he received an award for Excellence in Journalism by the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalism, of which he is a member. Craig also earned an AA degree in General Studies at Patten College, graduating as class valedictorian in 2019. He leads Uncuffed podcasting classes for formerly incarcerated individuals, and also works for GRIP (Guiding Rage Into Power) and RJOY (Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth) in Oakland. Other achievements include training and experience as a Peer Health Educator, Circle Keeper, Group Facilitator, Mentor, Event Planner/Organizer and Restorative Justice Practitioner. In the future, he hopes to continue honoring the people I harmed, by being of service for the rest of my life.