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2019 Top-Rated Nonprofit

The Freedom To Choose Project

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Crime & Law, Rehabilitation Services for Offenders

Mission: Transforming lives of individuals impacted by incarceration through compassionate experiential education. The Freedom to Choose Project is a life-changing, experiential program offered to the incarcerated and underserved. Our unique curriculum provides the tools for emotional accountability and responsibility and inspires awareness of choice in any given situation; it promotes meaningful, lasting rehabilitation that begins from the inside and results in tangible change on the outside. Those that have participated in our workshops have reported benefits such as positive changes in behavior, thoughts and perspective. Participation in The Freedom to Choose Project appears to significantly reduce the risk of recidivism and fosters long-term change in participants, ultimately contributing to more peaceful, productive, and cohesive families and communities.

Results: We’ve been volunteering in CA prisons for over 14 years. To date, over 400 volunteers have served over 3,700 people, donating more than 67,000 hours. California spends $47,421 per person per year on incarceration. It only costs $100 for an inmate to take a 2-day workshop from The Freedom to Choose Project.

Target demographics: Vulnerable populations including: Men and women in prison, parolees, victims of domestic violence, people in addiction treatment and recovery. We also work with any of their friends and family members to create a wide base of psycho-social support.

Direct beneficiaries per year: ~1,200 people

Geographic areas served: California

Programs: Freedom to Choose Prison Project, Service Learning Training, Community Programs

Community Stories

62 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Every so often we are blessed to participate in an experience that is truly transformational for all involved. The Freedom To Choose Project is just such an experience. The participants (in this case, prison inmates) came into the room with a kind of glad-to-be-doing-something-different attitude and, two days later, their hearts were touched, their Spirits lifted, their hope renewed. The ability of the volunteers (us) to honestly open up and reach inside to discover new learnings demonstrated that the participants had the freedom to do the same, and what was revealed to us all is that we do, indeed, have the ability, the capacity, to heal ourselves. It was a blessing to be able to participate in such a profound experience, and I am sooo looking forward to the next workshop of discovery for us of all!

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've volunteered with Freedom To Choose. I give this non-profit five stars because of its levels of dedication, quality and excellence, on all levels. The workshop experience is life-changing for participants, designed to completely shift their relationship with themselves and others. This non-profit is doing more good to alter the prison system and fabric of society than any I know.

edithwilley

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I started volunteering for Freedom to Choose in the fall of 2011 and I have been going every year since - even though I now live several states away it is worth every penny spent for travel. It is so funny for me to write that I go to prison to experience peace, loving, kindness, laughter, and healing. I thought I was going to the prison to help people but it turns out it is an incredible opportunity for me to serve and to be served. All the volunteers come into one accord during the weekend workshops - which is incredible to witness 70-80 people in flow and cooperating with the continuous changing environment of the prison. In addition to the volunteers all being great to work with the inmates are the true gift for me. Many of them have been participating in a Freedom to Choose workshop for over a decade and they come to these workshops with such open hearts, loving, and a willingness to heal - I always learn so much from them. Thank you Freedom to Choose for all that you do.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I’ve been a volunteer for a long time and have been to many weekend workshops. I also have volunteered in support of the weekly classes that Freedom to Choose offers at CA Institution for Women. In addition to friends and family, this is my most valued and precious community! And by that I mean not only the volunteers and FTC staff but also those individuals on the inside who are equally devoted in their participation. The FTC mission is to transform the lives of individuals impacted by incarceration. This is exactly what happens for all of us!

Lorraine W.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Excellent program! This program embodies a heart-centered approach. Each participant is greeted with kindness, empathy, dignity, and respect. I have volunteered with FTC over several years and assert that this work provides equal value to both the participants and volunteers. Many of the participants feel that they have been thrown away and forgotten by society. It has been very affirming to see the shift in their expressions when we listen deeply to their stories and life experiences. It provides them with an opportunity to free themselves from the past, let go of self defeating judgements, take responsibility for what happened, and be free to choose, truly free to choose differently in each moment. Rain W., PhD

Vicki P.1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I love to tell people that "I'm going to prison this weekend".
Folks that don't know me are shocked and my friends sometimes are also. It gives me an opening to tell them about the Freedom to Choose Project, and how it has been a life-changing experience for me. I can't say enough good things about this program.
For one thing, it is volunteering at its best and purest. We all travel to the prison at our own expense. I come from Seattle - four times now. Others come from New York, or Toronto or have a 4-5 hour drive from the far corners of California to get there. We foot the bill for the two night stay at the hotel and all the food for a weekend. As for me, I get far more out of the weekend than I spend in money.
Our commitment means a lot to the participants we serve also - they have other self-help programs. None, however, have as many volunteers that sit down with them knee to knee and share our experiences and lives with them as equals. We do the same work we ask them to do. We aren't advising or preaching or fixing. We are modeling the tools we are offering by working the same processes being presented by the facilitators. This is what makes this program so powerful.
When the large group comes together and shares after a practice session, it is apparent that this stuff works. When you have someone who has spent years in prison break down with emotion, you know that his/her life has changed. They've spent years suppressing any kind of emotion, because it's dangerous. These workshops are a safe place. A safe place to reveal their humanity; to change their thinking and thus change their lives.
This is a program that needs to expand to every prison in every state. But the tools taught are applicable to everyone, not just incarcerated individuals. Participants report spreading the information they've learned to their families and friends. The world can be changed. One person at a time.

2 Win H.1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

This program is off the charts amazing! There is really no way to describe the experience of being there, in the prison, in one of the workshops! It is clear to me that I receive more than I give. Each time I go, I am humbled once again by being a part of this. I would say this workshop works, first of all, because everyone involved brings authentic caring to the table. The inmates know this, they can sense who is being real and who has an agenda. I am awed by the simplicity of the workshop, how it is set up and how it works. Doors open to change and transformation is available. Part of the great beauty to me is that there is no separation, no one is better-than, no one is trying to change or teach another. And change emerges, both for those living inside and those living outside. The facades begin to fall away, the possibility of lifting up and finding true freedom appears. I have watched the inmates take this opportunity and run with it again and again. I have learned so much from them. The Freedom to Choose Project is profound and simple. My participation as a volunteer has changed my life for the better. I have been discovering freedom inside myself along with all those who participate in this. Thank you Freedom to Choose!!!!

Anthony A.1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've volunteered with Freedom to Choose multiple times a month for years now. I've witnessed the work we (inmate participants and free world volunteers) do together lead to consistent and concrete personal growth for all who participate. I've worked with individuals on the inside for years and then seen first hand how it effects their outlook on life once they leave the prison. The ownership of the way they choose to show up in the world is an absolute and consistent inspiration to me and many others. The work I have been able to do on myself and how I show up in the world has been invaluable.

I always tell people that the work we do is not charity. I feel that we are all equals working together to gain alignment with our true selves. I appreciate all; inside and outside the walls, who choose to do this work and the way we all support each other. The vehicle for this work is The Freedom To Choose Project.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Last weekend I participated in my 4th Freedom to Choose workshop. As always it was a deeply powerful and uplifting experience. You might not expect that being one of about 75 volunteers working with about 200 inmates could be uplifting, but it truly is. The US criminal justice is very flawed and these opportunities to do something about it, even if it's only to donate generously, are wonderful and much appreciated.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Highly recommend going to prison.

I am not going to lie. It was overwhelming watching 200 (ish) men walking towards the gym to take this course. My heart overflowed witnessing the eagerness of many of these men to really turn their lives around. I have been to many self-help events and nowhere have I come across the desire and commitment that these men displayed. My heart broke for the many men in this group who didn't know they had value. No one should have to go through life thinking they are a piece of sh*t.

I am truly not sure who benefited more from this event. The participants or me. I am truly humbled and Gestalt is right. We are more than the sum of our parts.

2 anitacoats

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been volunteering with The Freedom to Choose Project for a number of years and the experience of being a volunteer has been life-changing. I came into prison with so many preconceived ideas of what prison was like and most definitely what prison inmates were like. As I sat and got to know the women in front of me, I could honestly say that I had more in common with them, then not. I get to practice seeing the person, their true essence and not what they have done. I've witnessed people change over time doing this work and I am one of them. I remember an inmate stood up and shared once "the difference between The Freedom to Choose Project and the rest of the groups that come here, is that they always talk to us from the stage, but you sit right next to us. I feel like a human being again." This non-profit is incredibly unique and special and I am blessed to be a part of it.

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Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've had the honor of volunteering for the Freedom to Choose Foundation three times now and intend on volunteering as many times as possible. One aspect that I absolutely love about this project is that it is experiential in nature, giving the inmates the opportunity to practice effective communication skills with the volunteers and with each other. As I have had the opportunity to share about my life and hear about their lives, the walls begin to dissolve and I have discovered that we are essentially more the same than we are different. This project is one of the most powerful things I have ever participated in and I encourage anyone reading this to watch the 22 minute documentary to get a deeper sense of the nature of the incredible contribution Freedom to Choose Foundation is making in the lives of so many.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

There are seriously no words that can really describe what takes place with Freedom to Choose's work and the experience it creates.

Imagine having never once been told in your entire life that you are worth a damn. Imagine having never had anyone support you. Imagine that you had only experienced loss, violence, neglect, and shame throughout your life. Imagine having never been congratulated for anything you've done or even just smiled at for no reason.

Freedom to Choose goes into the prisons and literally offers hope to those who may never have had it. The volunteers smile at everyone, they genuinely love every person they meet and see, and they look past any wrongdoings someone may have been involved in. They separate the action from the person, and by doing this, they are able to love the individual regardless of anything they may have done in the past.

For many prisoners, this is the first time they have ever been able to experience someone loving them and acknowledging that they are worth something.

Freedom to Choose allows prisoners, and the volunteers, to unwind their past experiences, find their own soul and worth, and help them in starting into new beginnings--beginnings filled with hope, encouragement, acknowledgement, and support.

I had never witnessed true hopelessness before I went into the prison. It was an unexplainable experience, but then what was even more unexplainable was being able to see that true hopelessness turn around. I actually got to witness it. So many times I've been able to see the exact moment when someone believes, for the first time possibly in their entire lives, that they are truly worth something. It is a feeling that can only be experienced, and one that nothing else in my life compares with.

I have honestly never witnessed a more powerful program for a more perfect community. I've seen some of the prisoners go on to help heal their own family members and friends and others around them in their community once they get out, because of what they learned in Freedom to Choose.

If I were a beauty queen and was asked what I thought could bring world peace, I would say the work Freedom to Choose does.

Patricia S.4

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I joined this program as a volunteer with the expectation to help others. The program provided thorough training and provided impeccable support to all the volunteers. After my experience I found that I not only achieved a goal to help others but that this experience change me as well. Freedom to Choose restores justice through education to the incarcerated and bridges community to find insight and hope in our world. Freedom to choose is a non-profit community service organization like non other I have experienced and I hope to bring this program to my community in New Mexico.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the Freedom to Choose Project facilitators for the incredible and heart opening workshop you designed for the VSP weekend. I applaud you for your courage and willingness to discuss the subjects of racism and diversity which are real areas of challenge for our society, even for our conscious communities. As all of the facilitators stood in front of us and shared your own stories and experiences, I felt sense of opening and courage that was really profound. I grew up in environments where I did not see many people who looked like me or understand my cultural experiences, but I knew we are all the same. I love this work so much because it gets to the truth of who we really are and invites us to embrace our divine humanity with love and acceptance.

In my trios, I observed men with rigid bodies and distant stares light up with bright and focused eyes and beautiful smiles after the exercises. The awe I felt seeing them transform before my eyes was heart opening. On several occasions, some men told me that they wouldn't have even considered sitting down talking to another race and how different they felt after the exercises. I, too, shared their enlightenment as I became aware of my own judgments of things I thought were small and opportunities for releasing false beliefs with compassion and forgiveness.

I was inspired by all the facilitators. They held a honest, loving and supportive space for all of us the entire weekend. I watched all of them channel Light into their interactions with the inmates. The end of the workshop was magical when the six of them stood together for the final sharing modeling the workshop theme. I sensed the Light of Spirit moving through and around them. It was like a beautiful blanket of Love being woven with masterful strands of Light that were unique to each of them. They were on one accord and it was amazing to feel and watch.

I've been to several Freedom to Choose workshops in the past and they've been wonderful. This one touched my heart deeply and the joy I saw on the inmates faces was out of this world.

Thanks again for your willingness to bring a challenging subject out into the open with love, grace and kindness for individual and communal healing.

1 CheminB

Volunteer

Rating: 5

The brilliant James Baldwin said "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." This past weekend at Valley State Prison was a powerful demonstration of that statement.

Both the incredible Freedom to Choose Volunteer Team and the men attending the Advanced Workshop faced - and spoke about - "the elephants in the room" around diversity and race. The sharings were profound as many found a safe place to "speak their unspeakables" and really hear each other's experiences. Compassion was the dominant theme. Next we could do that workshop out here in the Free World...

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Volunteer

Rating: 5

Since 2006 I've been an active participant in Freedom to Choose Foundation (FTCF). I've watched the director-facilitators bring rich material to the participants/residents of both the Women & Men's prison. More importantly, every 6 months - for 2 months in a row, we have 75-80 volunteers who come from across the nation to participate in the workshop. Our role is to model the methods we are teaching the participants, and to share our life issues. We all learn the commonality of experiences on either side of the "wall." And the participants are profoundly moved that we all take off work, drive or fly hours at our own expense, and put ourselves up at a hotel for the 2-3 days of the workshop. We sit with them, eat with them and see them clearly - first and foremost as human beings. We don't ask their crime - and we don't judge them if we find out. We share practical tools of communication, responsibility and respect - tools we've learned to apply in our own day-to-day lives. Simply, we accept them as kindred souls - and we keep coming back. There is a waiting list of volunteers. Also we're told that so many former lifers have changed as a result of applying our tools that they are paroling. I am honored, humbled and grateful to be a part of this work. It works because they work it - and THEY keep coming back!

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Writer

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a volunteer with the Freedom to Choose Project (FTC) for over a decade. FTC offers large-group workshops to inmates in California's prisons; the program is based on the philosophy of renowned psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl. Through experiential learning sessions, more than 4000 incarcerated men and women have heightened their social and emotional skills. The results: reduced recidivism, reduced violence, and the rupture of generations of familial violence. It is a privilege to be a part of this rehabilitative justice program

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Volunteer

Rating: 5

Freedom to Choose (FTC):
life-affirming,
life-changing,
empowering,
a demonstration of how incarcerated individuals (through their acquisition of social and emotional skills) can return to their communities and become productive members of society.
Proven success!

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1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I had the pleasure of being of the 79 volunteers to assist the Freedom to Choose Project team last weekend. I found it be one of the most heartwarming, uplifting, and humbling opportunities to be of service. I have the most respect for this foundation, they have found a way to connect to the prisoners heart and offer them a chance to be seen and heard as individuals not just as their crimes. I'm beyond grateful for this team, it offered me a true and rare opportunity to truly practice seeing the loving essence of the prisoners without any judgments. Not to condone their crime, but in no way, their crime was relevant to me. I was able to encourage them to separate themselves from their crime, in order to forgive themselves and move-on, regardless of their location (inside or outside of the jail). I found this experience liberating and uplifting and I left with my heart filled with joy and gratitude for humanity. Thank you to Freedom to Choose Project and all its supporters.

Nancy229

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've been a volunteer since 2010. The workshops get better each time I go. The inmate participants express so much gratitude for our presence and what they learn. Parole boards in CA look very favorably on an inmate's participation. There is a reason why there is a HUGE demand for this program!

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Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've been volunteering with Freedom to Choose Foundation since 2010. Each time I go the experience is better than the last. The people we serve are changing their lives in profound ways. Through this program they learn to take responsibility for their life experiences. They learn to empower themselves through letting go of self-destructive ways of thinking and behaving. And when we leave they use what they learned to help other inmates, thereby creating a better environment for everyone. I am honored to be a part of this tremendous work.

RevMichaelB

Board Member

Rating: 5

In my very first experience with the Freedom To Choose Project, I truly understood what Change from the Inside meant. I thought I was going inside a prison to bring hope and inspiration to others. I discovered that I was also truly serving myself by sharing the human experience of saying to another , "I am a human with feelings and life challenges just like you".

The Freedom to Choose Project has allowed me to make good on a childhood promise I made to myself many year ago - that when I grew up, I would be a part of bringing peace and love to this world.

I witnessed a tremendous amount of violence growing up on Chicago's southside during the 60's. I survived several major riots, the Vietnam war, gang warfare and even more in the urban street environment.

Being a witness to mankind's inhumanity to man so early in life, I became aware that there was inside of us a great Light, revealed through our eyes, and designed to awaken all of us to Love as the healing balm.

In the Freedom to Choose Project I have rediscovered how to tap into my inner Light and to see this same Goodness in others. I've been able to practice the power of listening and honoring the value of another human life. Most fulfilling to me is the fact that I have uncovered my own purpose and mission in life to make a difference in the life of another by bringing light and love into the world in a very special way.

Not many people on the planet can say that they have found the meaning of their life. The Freedom to Choose Project has helped me to find mine.



David C.6

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Working with women who were incarcerated in prison humbled me. They had all broken the law but they also had often faced tragic home lives, felt the toil of drug addiction, and not had role models. I volunteered to help the inmates with communication skills so that they can defuse emotions and have a better chance of success when they parole.