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The Freedom to Choose foundation and their approach to second chances

The Freedom to Choose foundation and their approach to second chances

How many of us have ever had a second chance at something? Maybe when we were young that teacher gave us a second chance to pass the course or at the university, maybe that girl gave us a second chance at inviting her out. Or maybe life has been hard to you and life has given you a second chance after getting over a very dangerous illness.

In this case, life has given second chances to people that have made mistakes, sometimes very horrible mistakes. The Freedom to Choose foundation is giving people that are in jail and have problems dealing with crime, drug or violence in their lives. Their work impact many people that are inside jails as well as their families. Let’s take a look at their story and what they are doing.

Freedom to Choose workshops began in the year 2003 when an inmate at   the Valley State Prison for Women sent a letter to the president of the University of Santa Monica (“USM”). This inmate was serving a life sentence at the moment and was lucid enough to ask the university for professionals that could help her and her fellow inmates live a better life.

In this jail, many people gathered together that were ranked in the medium-to-maximum security range. There were all type of people and crimes ranged from simple possession of a controlled substance, to prostitution, to property crimes, and murder. At that time there were  3,800 female inmates and all of them had a clear goal in mind and it was to become  self-sufficient individuals who were not dependent on society or the prison system. In summary, what she asked for was for someone to give a speech on self-esteem in order help herself and her friends and  inmates. Simple.

Image courtesy of Celestine Chua at Flickr.com
Image courtesy of Celestine Chua at Flickr.com

Two very important persons for the foundation now, Drs. David and Bonnie Paul, were faculty members at USM, and heard about this wonderful request and wanted to do something about it.  They responded by volunteering to organize and co-facilitate a little experiment at the prison where they gathered all types of people and gave them motivational speeches and self-esteem talks. In their words “What resulted is a volunteer service project consisting of a series of very interactive and experiential workshops that are open to individuals from all faiths and all walks of life”

These aforementioned doctors, who happen to be husband and wife, have dedicated all their efforts to this foundation. The program is a work of the heart, and since they started they have volunteered their time and energy to direct, produce and co-facilitate these programs. As a matter of fact, they are still  very active and dedicated as they co-write the curriculum and are the lead facilitators and trainers for Freedom to Choose workshops.

After some time, seven years to be exact, the program was a total success among doctors and inmates. In 2010 the Freedom to Choose Foundation was appointed  as a non-profit to support the expansion of its work.

Their mission and vision statements are clear and address what their target needs.  They use the power of Love to educate and prevent violence, addiction and incarceration. As for their vision, they value and support people in having a second chance to create a better life for themselves and their families and it is their goal that at some point of time “every person who wants to learn and know how to become a responsible, productive and active member of society has the opportunity and support to do so”.

Also, they really believe that people can change, even after spending years in prison, or years in addiction. They truly believe in the human capacity of redemption because they have seen it first-hand when people become peaceful, productive, responsible members of society after being some of the worst human beings found out in the streets.

They run 3 main programs which are the Freedom To Choose Workshop that was originally created for people serving life sentences in prison in order to give them a quality if life even if they were never going to leave prison. At this workshop they teach communication skills, relationship skills, anger management and conflict resolutions.

Another program is the Community Advanced and Introductory Workshops that offer community workshops designed to fit the needs of targeted populations that are really unserved by the government. They work in the areas of the criminal justice system and the addiction recovery system and they include both parties of the equation.

They also have the Prison Advanced and Introductory Workshops where they offer advanced workshops on special topics including: addiction, emotional freedom, healthy relationships, and many more.

So who said second chances didn’t exist? Here is the proof that they do. Visit them at www.freedomtochoosefoundation.org

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