The Inside/Outside Fellowship is a program designed to increase contributions to the Ella Baker Center’s policy work by people who are directly impacted by the policies we are advocating to change. It’s also an opportunity for directly impacted people to learn more about the criminal justice movement and the process for changing policies, while receiving payment for their contributions and labor.

For our second year of the Inside/Outside Fellowship, three currently incarcerated Inside Policy Fellows will work with one formerly incarcerated or systems impacted Outside Fellow for a nine-month fellowship program. As we head into our second cycle, we are excited to welcome our first Inside Policy Fellow incarcerated at a “women’s” prison. Being more engaged with women, trans, and non-binary incarcerated community is a critical step in pushing forward EBC’s advocacy and policy priorities. All fellows will work hand-in-hand with the policy team and in coordination with the broader EBC organization to determine statewide policy priorities, shape reform narratives, and conduct grassroots organizing and awareness building within prison settings and the broader criminal justice movement. 

Meet the 2022 Fellows

Dortell Williams (he/him) is 56, and has been incarcerated since the age of 23. While incarcerated, he has earned a paralegal certificate, a BA in Communication Studies, and is a prolific essayist. He focuses on crime survivor justice, personal transformation for himself and others, and prison reform. He also led an academic group on Lancaster’s Honor Yard for over a decade, accumulating over 800 hours of peer-to-peer instruction. Now he joins the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights’ Policy Team as an Inside Fellow for the Inside/Outside Policy Fellowship, a program that aims to support system impacted organizers through legislative training. 

Mara Plascencia (she/her) is a Latina from San Diego California. Mara has been a member for California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) since 2016, first working to end the suicide crisis at the California Institution for Women (CIW). In 2019 Mara created a Youth Mentor Organization (YMO) to help her community at (CIW). YMO trains and supports youth mentees to become mentors and community leaders. At its largest and prior to Covid, Mara and her team supported 75 participants in the program. Mara has been an inside organizer for Initiate Justice since 2021. She’s a proud mother of Angel and Samirah Flores. Now Mara joins the Ella Baker Center policy team as an inside Fellow for the Inside/Outside Fellowship, a program that aims to support systems-impacted organizers through legislative training.

Steve Brooks (he/him), is an African American writer, activist, and an award- winning journalist, originally from southern California. Steve played an instrumental role in the move to end ‘race-based lockdowns’ in California prisons. He has also been part of the San Quentin (SQ) Inside Organizing Team since 2019. During the outbreak at SQ in the Summer of 2020 he wrote several articles covering the outbreak. He has been an outspoken advocate for policy changes and decarceration. He is currently the Journalism Guild chairman for San Quentin News and Manager of SQs Wall city magazine.

Kesha Brown (she/her) is our 2022 Outside Fellow. Her life experiences with the criminal justice system as well as social and economic injustices led her to pursue a Master’s in Urban and Public Affairs. Her experiences have fueled her passion to learn, create and advocate for policy change in the criminal justice system; this, in turn, led her to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

What is our Theory of Change?

If we organize with people who are currently incarcerated, then we breach the barriers designed to maintain the prison industrial complex: we challenge physical separation by reducing the prison population through policy; we challenge social separation by centering the ideas, needs, and leadership of those inside; and we challenge political separation by building a successful framework for the exercise of inside/outside political power.