Chair, Board of Advisors
When I held a power drill and inserted a drill bit for the first time, I was scared. I doubted my ability to become a skilled craftsman. No aspect of this type of work came easy to me. Although unsure of myself, I persevered. I learned how to install drywall, apply laminate and weld steel. I also learned the joy of working as a team toward a collective goal. I can still remember the exhilaration I felt when my class built an 8-cycle concrete renewal labyrinth in 24 days. Talk about an “all hands on deck” experience. With my class, I went on to build kitchen and bath cabinets for Habitat for Humanity, a banquet table for the governor’s mansion, rotunda desks for the Indiana Court of Appeals, and many other projects. The teamwork, carpentry, and construction skills I’ve obtained will serve me for a lifetime. I was released from the Indiana Women’s Prison in early September, 2017, and am now a Ph.D. student at New York University.
Today, I’m a part of Constructing Our Future because I want the participants to know the joy, pride, and deep feeling of accomplishment that comes from building or refurbishing anything, especially a home. It’s empowering in a way few understand. The entire program is formulated to create successful post-incarcerated women. I desire to see a generation of well-equipped women leaders coming out of mass incarceration demonstrating how to effectively heal, grow and acquire skills while incarcerated, and build self-sufficient, sustainable and accomplished lives post-incarcerated. We know better than most what is needed to counter recidivism and overcome the circumstances that brought many of us to prison, and COF – created entirely by incarcerated women – is our solution.
Andrew Falk is a Senior Fellow with the Sagamore Institute, with a research focus on criminal justice reform and international environmental and energy law. He is actively involved in analyzing the impact of Indiana’s criminal code revisions and reforms and drafting reports summarizing this research. He also researches and writes regularly on environmental and energy issues, such as the promise of solar energy in Africa and the benefits of secure property rights to protect the environment.
Following law school, Andrew served as a judicial clerk to the Honorable Kenneth L. Ryskamp, Federal District Judge, Southern District of Florida, and to the Honorable Brent E. Dickson of the Supreme Court of Indiana. Before joining the Sagamore Institute, Andrew practiced business and environmental law with the Indianapolis firm Kroger, Gardis and Regas. While at the firm, Andrew was introduced to the world of environmental law while working on a large PCB contamination case, and he has remained passionate about environmental issues since that time. He left the firm to join the Indiana Office of the Attorney General and practiced in Criminal Appeals, arguing multiple cases before the Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court. He also worked for the Office of Assistant Chief Counsel, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where he assisted with issues as diverse as collecting duties from importers of counterfeit goods to environmental cleanups at Border Patrol stations.
Andrew was born and raised in the Midwest, living in Iowa and Kansas before moving to Indiana. He now lives in Indianapolis with his wife and five children. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, and managing his fantasy football teams.
Director of Development
During my years at the Indiana Women’s Prison, I witnessed numerous women being released from the institution with confidence and great hopes of success. I had also seen many of those same individuals return a short time later with a painful look of defeat. This redefined recidivism for me and fueled my desire to participate in creating an opportunity that would produce a different outcome. When the idea of Constructing Our Future was born, I was ecstatic to join in the design of the program. Accompanied by a wonderful group of educated women, we discussed what was needed to establish a solid foundation that would assist individuals in a successful reintegration. Painstakingly, COF was formulated in a fashion that offers hope to secure a future of possibilities.
My involvement with COF provides me with a sense of purpose and empowerment that I felt was lacking in my life. The various experiences of my journey continue to align perfectly with the purpose of the program, leaving no question in my mind about my part in COF’s endeavor. Creating a program that has the potential to promote change within the prison walls, as well as beyond, has fulfilled a vitally important element of restorative justice for me. I am thrilled to be part of something where I can watch neighborhoods improve through the rehabilitation of houses, women, and families.
Director of Operations
At a time when I was my most vulnerable, new to prison, for an unpopular crime, I was embraced and cared for by women who, by society's standards, were the worst of the worst. They were convicted of what the media called the most heinous crimes. Yet when I was cold, they clothed me. When I was hungry, they fed me. And when I was weak, they held me. I found women who truly wanted better, for themselves and their children, but lacked the skills and support to get them there. I often wondered why I was placed in their path and what I could do to help.
When Vanessa Thompson, a woman I had gotten to know over the years, asked me to be part of a group challenged with the mission to develop her vision and create a program that would help women to reenter society successfully, I couldn't say no. We began toiling over U.S. housing policy, meeting with different members of community organizations, and discussing what might be the key components of a successful program. Our research supported our own inclinations: housing and employment are the biggest indicators of whether or not a woman will make it or go back to prison. We believed marrying these two concerns with intensive character building and therapeutic services would create the ultimate program. And thus COF was born.
COF has not only given me a way to give back and serve others, it has fostered a restored hope in what good work can one day be associated with my name. Working with COF has made me feel like I have value and worth, not in spite of where I've been, but because of where I've been. A little over ten years ago when I was arrested, I never could have imagined that I would one day be walking the halls of the Statehouse, meeting with policy makers and working on bills that will change laws. I am just one person, a felon and a failure, yet with COF I am able. Able to change. Able to serve. Able to affect change.
Board of Advisors
Kelsey Kauffman founded the Higher Education Program at the Indiana Women’s Prison in 2012 and directed the program until 2017. Constructing Our Future started as part of her Public Policy class at the prison. Kelsey’s interest in prisons and related topics of race and violence began as a teenager with three experiences: marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery, AL, working with an all-male inmate crew assigned to the Maryland Statehouse where she was working, and living with a tribe of active headhunters in the Philippines. After graduating from Yale in 1971 as a member of the university’s first class of women, Kelsey became a correctional officer at the Connecticut State Prison for Women in Niantic. She later went to graduate school at Harvard where she wrote her dissertation on the devastating effect that working in prisons has on officers. Her book, Prison Officers and Their World (Harvard U. Press, 1988), remains one of the few in-depth studies of men and women who work in prison. In the years since, she has continued to research and write about prisons, including being an advocate for the return of prison nurseries in the 1990s, and investigating problems of white supremacy among prison employees in the 2000s.
Board of Advisors
State Representative Karlee Macer is a resident and native of Wayne Township, on the west side of Indianapolis.
As president of the Wayne Township Education Foundation, former president of the 40 West Business Association, and the Community Relations Manager at Northwest Healthcare Center, Karlee has worked with students, workers and business leaders to accomplish shared goals in the community. She is a founding member of the community and economic development non-profit, Indy Gateway, focused on improving the quality of life for everyone on the west side. By fighting for industry in both the public and private sector, she has worked to create jobs with livable wages in House District 92.
Karlee is the ranking minority member on the Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee and serves on Commerce, Small Business, and Economic Development Committee, and Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee.