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2018 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

51 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

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.

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...

Previous Stories
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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.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Entering a prison for the first time in my life as a volunteer, I didn't know quite what to expect. I had seen the video documentary for the Project, and I hoped I would recognize some of the women I would meet. Entering the gymnasium to set up, it was much like setting up for any workshop. Then the women entered, and they were smiling. The first ones to arrive were excited to welcome us into their home, and into their hearts.

In some ways, it would be like any other workshop. Everyone begins the workshop from a perspective based on where they are in life. The workshop is designed to allow people to participate in deep, emotional healing work. I was honored to work with women who were willing to go to places they had never been in service to changing their lives, healing past wounds, and creating a future different from the one they may have imagined before entering the gym.

It didn't take long for me to shift to relating to everyone as "just regular people." Some of the challenges the women shared with me were no different than challenges faced by friends, or sometimes myself. I was humbled by the willingness of some of the women to truly face their challenges and choose new ways of being.

Later, when the Freedom to Choose Project began holding workshops in the men's prison, I was excited to join the volunteers in bringing the workshops to a new community. I was again humbled and awed by the men and the way they participated. I witnessed a willingness to be honest and share deeply, and to let go of old patterns, habits, and beliefs. I witnessed a group of men who stood in support of one another as a community. I witnessed transformation on the faces of the men I was privileged to work with individually.

I cannot say enough good things about the Freedom To Choose Project and what they are accomplishing. The volunteers, donors, and leaders are making a difference in the lives of the men and women we all serve. And the benefits are multiplied through improved relationships with family and friends. I am blessed to be a part something so magical.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

If you want to understand what “unconditional” means and what it is like to be unconditionally loving, do direct service work as a volunteer for Freedom to Choose. It has changed my perspective on everything and everyone. I have been a volunteer at Valley State Prison for men since 2014. It is one of the most important things I do each year. I am humbled to work with these men and our exceptional group of volunteers. It changes our lives!

1 Jaden P.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

This is one experience that words just cannot convey the impact it has on the lives of the participants and the volunteers. When friends ask how my experience with Freedom To Choose (FTC) went, the only word that comes to mind is REVELATORY. The work that Bonnie and David have dedicated to is soul-filling and continues to evolve within each one of us even after the volunteer opportunity. I am reminded of the old saying about giving a man a fish and then teaching him to fish. FTC both gives each one of us a fish (the gift of compassion and love) and then teaches us how to fish so that we can feed the world. An incredible nonprofit!

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

I had the opportunity to be the production coordinator for the Freedom to Choose documentary. It was an honor to work with Drs. David & Bonnie Paul and see them in action at the prison. https://vimeo.com/search?q=freedom+to+choose I am a graduate of the University of Santa Monica and being with the inmates with David, Bonnie, and the other inmates in a caring way was very powerful, healing, and empowering.

1 Lori C.2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been to the Prison as a volunteer more than 20 times. It is the highlight of my year. There is so much love, acceptance, trust and gratitude when we are there that it is my belief that the entire prison feels this on some level. Being apart of this project has allowed me to feel that I can make a difference in the world, one person at a time. I am so grateful for my affiliation and inclusion in this project

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

When I first started to speak with my friends and family about FTC I gave a brief description as a place I went to teach the skills from USM. My experiences helped opened my heart, I now simply share that It's one of the most loving places I know of.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

The work we all do at the prisons is truly transformational. In my mind, its the truest thing I have ever seen to true rehabilitation for inmates (participants). But its so much more than that. Everyone learns and is transformed - participants and volunteers alike. It was profoundly moving to volunteer for the first time and truly be of service for the beautiful human beings currently having a prison experience. I'm so grateful to be part of this work.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been volunteering for Freedom To Choose for a year, and I am so blessed to be part of this organization and the very important work that they do in our society. It's truly special to be part of these workshops in prisons and knowing what a tremendous positive impact this work has on the participants and their loved ones too.
As a cherry on top, the integrity of FTC is perhaps the greatest I have experienced within any organization I have volunteered for.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

This charity organization works very closely with inmates. It basically teaches them profressional level communication skills that originate from a very clear, calm, and heart-centered place. The charity's method of teaching skills shifts the consciousness of the inmates understanding to look at the different choices they have in any given situation even while they deal with their reactive triggers. By teaching and practicing these skills, the inmate learns quickly that it empowers them to calmly make a better self honoring choice, and take full responsibility. The charity identifies the processes of what's going on inside of them that often keeps them repeating their old behavioral patterns that causes them and others so much anger, upset, and anguish. The charity instead shows them new ways to consciously reprogram themselves from a loving place, for their highest good and all those concerned.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Having devoted a majority of my adult life to service, interacting and working with numerous non-profits, I have absolutely no reservations in sharing that in my humble but experienced opinion, none have been more financially responsible, nor as effectively benefactor life changing. Founders David & Bonnie Paul exemplify and embody truth and integrity in all they say and do. It is this exampleship from the top down through all we volunteers, which is the secret sauce that makes FTC so amazingly impactful. In a nutshell, FTC assists souls having a prison experience, in owning the limitless empowerment of taking 100% responsibility for everything they think, feel, say and do, making them candidates as much more effective, productively reintegrated members of society.

4 Dena H.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Being a volunteer with the Freedom to Choose Foundation, created by Dr's David and Bonnie Paul, has changed my life forever. Never in my life have I felt more "on purpose" than when I'm serving with this incredible team of loving souls. The unconditional loving, compassion, acceptance, humility, honesty, and forgiveness we all give and receive during the time spent together in the prison projects is indescribable!

But I'll try... There have been many instances that I've forgotten for a time that we are in a prison gym as I'm connecting with another person, another beautiful soul having a prison experience, and am humbled at the recognition that we are all equally held in the Divine Heart of God. It's as if for that time there are no bars, no barbed wire, no walls of any kind. It feels as though we all, for those moments, transcend into Christ Consciousness together as we connect heart to heart. And, we ALL experience profound healing as a result! What comes to mind as I write this is what was written in the Bible that Jesus said, "...For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be among them." ~Matthew 18:20 I'm not one to quote the Bible too often, but this passage has new meaning for me as I experience that loving presence every time we come together to do this work.

Hearing the inmates share so openly and deeply about their shifts in consciousness and how they see the world, how they see themselves in the world now, as a result of doing their own healing work and applying their newly acquired skills, is inspiring to say the least! They've often shared that their healing goes beyond themselves and has profoundly impacted their relationships with their families, too!

The Freedom to Choose Foundation is truly Divinely inspired, and is making a positive difference in so many lives, as well as within the prison culture itself! I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this team and to have the opportunity to serve humanity in this way. Thank you, Freedom to Choose!!