Exciting News for the Lionheart Foundation!!

04/11/16 0



EXCITING OPPORTUNITY FOR LIONHEART!! This week a donor stepped forward with the pledge of a $40,000 MATCHING GIFT – IF Lionheart can match this amount by February 1, 2017. If matched, this $80,000 will support Lionheart’s expansion into public schools, programs for high-risk youth, and prisoners across the country. For 25 years Lionheart has made a life-changing difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people on the fringe of society. Please help Lionheart provide life-altering resources to thousands more individuals. To learn more about Lionheart please go to:  www.lionheart.org  To donate please go to: www.lionheart.org/donation/

THANK YOU for responding to this important and urgent request . Any amount is greatly appreciated. PLEASE PASS THIS APPEAL ON TO YOUR FRIENDS. Thanks again!!!

Lionheart’s Houses of Healing, Power Source, and Power Source Parenting Programs are changing lives and building futures.


Interesting article on Isaiah B. Pickens, Ph.D.

21/09/16 0

Dr. Pickens was a facilitator at Rikers Island for the NIH funded study on Lionheart’s youth program, Power Source.

This article is an interesting glimpse into Dr. Pickens’ “passion”.

BE Modern Man: Meet “The Mentalist” Isaiah B. Pickens, PhD



It All Depends on the Side You Choose

27/03/14 0

Editor’s Note: Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org The following post is the second of three that will be posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog.  Many thanks for this insightful post.   http://theinnervoice84.wordpress.com/

Because my focus is the present, and especially what’s to come, I try to refrain from talking much about my past. Other than for the sake of demonstrating the progress of my personal development, what I did and who I was seem irrelevant outside my own life. But recently I’ve discovered that my story could be useful to others. I feel though that it might also alienate readers who disagree with the belief system guiding my path to redemption. I just hope those individuals don’t let such disagreement turn them off to the mission statement of theinnervoice84 blog: communities, specifically the formerly and currently incarcerated, working together to solve their problems. For better or worse, here’s my testimony.

I grew up in inner city Milwaukee, the only child of a lower middle class mixed couple (white Mom, black Dad). I was a short, shy, pretty boy with white people hair, and more interest in soccer than basketball. Not surprisingly, I was an easy target for the jokes and macho contempt of my predominantly black friends and peers. I was also a clown, dangerously independent-minded (at group outings, for example, I routinely wandered off to do my own thing), and had a very loving family. As a result, the teasing and minor bullying didn’t crush my self-esteem.

Eventually I got taller (5’10″), fell in love with hooping and got good at ribbing people back – or oftentimes first. But I never really learned how to be an adult. Both in and outside my family I had numerous examples of the responsibility and maturity it required and the assumption was, as it usually is with kids, that I’d just imitate them. In fact, I probably would have if not for more prominent influences.

Directly through its lyrics and images and indirectly through its effect on the culture that surrounded me, the intoxicating negativity of rap music became my bible in my journey to manhood. In time I began selling drugs, collecting mostly illegal weapons and got my “luv” of firearms tatted on my chest. By about the time I was 16 the chip on my shoulder from years of having my masculinity attacked had fused with my skin and made me immune to the wise counsel of those who’d been in my shoes. I had something to prove and wisdom and reason would not hold me back.

Fast forward three years. The charge is first degree intentional homicide. A minor drug deal turned robbery became an act of fatal revenge. The details don’t matter; only the sadness and stupidity hold meaning. Within mere seconds, decades of potential was demolished leaving two separate groups of loved ones to sift through the rubble for something to ease the pain of the road ahead.

I’ve never been a violent person, at least not in the typical reactionary sense. The only two fights I’ve ever been in happened at county jail while my case was being processed and several well-respected non-family members (business owners, professors, the brother-in-law of an ex-Wisconsin governor) wrote letters to the judge about how uncharacteristic my crime was. But I was vengeful, responding to disrespect and provocation outside the heat of the moment. Honor and justice have always been extremely important to me and back then this translated into loyalty to the street code, which demanded never shall anyone punk you. For me this was rule number one and I was all too eager to enforce it in my methodical, over-the-top style. A righteous mercenary in my eyes. Realistically, just another puppet in ego’s workshop.

Initially I couldn’t get past the 17 year sentence. I kept telling myself something would shake: the state would reinstate parole, I’d be resentenced to less time, etc. Slowly I gave up on this hope and instead came to realize how lucky I was. As I’ve mentioned before, no one truly knew how close to the devil I was in my self-proclaimed noble bloodlust. Several times during that last summer of my freedom, I was literally no more than a ski mask, an unregistered vehicle, or a better firing angle away from multiple life sentences and putting my family in grave danger (all in the name of protecting the dignity of my clique). Then, had I not come to prison, there was the guarantee of future opportunities – after all, if we’re looking for it, people will always give us a reason to feel disrespected. More importantly, how does 17 years make up for taking a young life?

To anyone more than a week old it was clear that somewhere along the line I’d made a wrong turn. Prior to being sentenced I’d been concentrating more on what I’d done wrong to get caught. Not long after I got to prison, however, I began to concentrate more on what I’d done wrong as a person. The harshness of my new circumstances was quickly waking me up to reality and I needed answers.

Since middle school I’ve been unable to accept the concept of an all-knowing creator, so there was extremely little chance of theistic religion leading me out of the dark. Yet I knew I was missing something; there was more than what I’d been chasing in life. Inevitably, I gravitated towards Buddhism (though technically I’m not currently a Buddhist) and the road back to humanity started to clear up. Everything bad in my life, the growing pains of my childhood, the petty grudges and hate of my adolescence, the suffering of incarceration, it all came down to one thing: Ego. Ego was the reason for my cowardly desire to feel superior, my ignorant belief that I was more worthy of respect than others, and consequently my natural though weak impulse to take offense to, well, anything. Of course, this only meant I’d discovered the enemy. The hard part was gaining the upper hand.

In “The Wisdom of Two Wolves”, an old Cherokee tells his grandson about the battle being waged inside people. One wolf is evil, anger, greed, jealousy, envy, sorrow, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and lies. The other is serenity, joy, truth, humility, empathy, hope, love, gratitude, generosity, and compassion. “But grandpa”, the child asks, “which one wins?” “The one you feed, son.”

I had to starve the beast. My mind had already converted but I couldn’t consider the change genuine until my entire system fell in line.

I began to rebel against my ego; it said left, I went right. If I got into it with somebody I’d go apologize to them later, regardless of my innocence in the matter. If I lost big in fantasy football or had something stolen I’d give away some of my canteen to a neighbor. If correctional staff insulted me – the hardest thing for me to deal with in here – I’d laugh at and admonish my hurt pride like a teenager does his younger brother throwing a tantrum: “Grow up you little baby.” I constantly evaluated how I dealt with events in order to game plan for a better response next time. Though time after time I failed to measure up to my ambition, I was determined. Gradually, frustratingly so, I began to truly change my instincts.

In many ways I haven’t changed. I’m still a clown, and my sense of humor, if anything, has only expanded due to my peace of mind. I’m still hip-hop to my core (the non-negative type though like Rhymesayers out of Minneapolis, the movie Brown Sugar, and the choreography duo Tabatha & Napoleon). And as a human I will always struggle to match my reactions to my expectations. But these are superficial points. I look back at how hungrily I fed on naïve judgments of others and thoughts of payback that ego dangled in front of my immaturity, and in a very real way it’s as if I’ve undergone a heart transplant. It’s hard to explain. I’m the same, but I’m so different.

Maybe I’d have matured the way I have or at least broke free from the claws of my vengefulness even if I hadn’t put myself and those I love through this hell. I’ll never know. More importantly, I won’t let myself entertain such thoughts. What could have been is a picture with two sides and, like everyone, I have the choice to either focus on how things could be better or how they could be worse. A choice between illogical sadness or eternal contentment. Talk about an easy decision – although the other side does occasionally succeed in distracting me.

My future might be bright, it might be dim, it might even get cut short. I can’t fully control the outcome there. However, I’m blessed in so many ways and will continue to share my good fortune in order to build up those headed for or caught up in destruction. I just hope I can make a difference.

Keep boxing temptation. Give freedom a hug for us who can’t. [2014]


Guest Blog: Shutting Down the School-to-Prison Pipeline

13/08/13 0

Editor’s Note:  From time to time, Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission.  If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org   Many thanks to Denise Tomasini-Joshi for contributing the following article.

Four Thoughts on Shutting Down the School-to-Prison Pipeline

by Denise Tomasini-Joshi

On December 2012 the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing on the school-to-prison pipeline.  After years of research and attention to this phenomenon by academics, non-profits and advocates, focus by the highest levels of government seems overdue.   As the hearing’s chair, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), noted: for many children the schools are increasingly a gateway for the criminal justice system, depriving them of their right to an education.  While we wait for the glacial pace of federal action, is there anything that cities, municipalities, and even individual schools can do?  Here are 4 broadly supported recommendations that can be implemented at the local level:

1.     Eliminate “zero-tolerance” school discipline policies – In a landmark study titled “Breaking School’s Rules” the Council of State Government’s Justice Center revealed that 23% of children with a disciplinary action – which included suspensions ranging from 1 class to several days – had contact with the justice system as compared with only 2% of children not disciplined.  The study looked at every student in Texas in the seventh grade from the years 2000 to 2002, and found that “frequent violators” – students with more than 11 disciplinary actions – had a 50% chance of having contact with the justice system. 

 One troubling finding of this study is the arbitrary nature of disciplinary actions.  While “zero tolerance” invokes an image of uniformity and consistency, the reality is that disciplinary actions are highly subjective and applied most often, and more harshly, to certain types of students; namely, children of color and children with educational or psychiatric disabilities.  The study found that controlling for other factors, black youth where 32% more likely to receive disciplinary actions than white or Hispanic students. 

 While these finding are upsetting the study also points to signs of hope; the most significant being that schools with similar demographics have used different modes of school discipline to different results.  This means that schools can reduce exclusion without sacrificing safety. 

The implications of the study are clear: “zero-tolerance” policies ultimately hurt particular groups of children as well as the system as a whole.  These policies and the ensuing suspensions should be replaced with other forms of behavior assistance.

 2.     Invest in Restorative Justice Programs – While the first point above, signals a need to reduce the number of disciplinary actions leading to suspensions, schools struggle with addressing misbehavior, particularly when that behavior has consequences for other students. In these cases it’s important not just to discourage and correct the behavior, but to provide recourse to the person affected and send a message of institutional responsiveness.  One tool for accomplishing this is restorative justice.

 Restorative justice is a form of conflict resolution in which those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, are brought together into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.  It’s a method that can work without involvement in the criminal justice system, but also along with a criminal justice proceeding, and at different stages of that process (pre-trial, pre-sentence, post-sentence).  For youth, restorative justice at the earliest stages of conflict can serve as a form of diversion from the criminal justice system. 

A group of California educators recently spoke to the need for restorative processes at a State’s Senate Education Committee hearing in favor of a bill to ban suspensions for “willful defiance”.  They explained that “California schools urgently need strategies for discipline that help children learn from mistakes, make reparations for harm, and go on to succeed.”  While that bill was approved and sent to the full Senate for a vote, the legislation only prevents suspensions and does not require the type of restorative function that educators endorsed.  Restorative justice school programs can serve as an alternative to suspensions for educators and help interrupt the flow of the school-to-prison pipeline. 

 3.     Improve After-School programs – It’s well known that arrests for juvenile crime peak between 2pm and 6pm on school days.  One reason, is that 69% of all married-couple families have both parents working outside the home, while 71% of single mother households and 85% of single father households have the custodial parent working outside the home.  The gap between in-school time and work schedules means that children spend 20-25 hours per week unsupervised.  There is therefore a great need for supervised, constructive activities during the post-school hours.

 After-school programs (ASP) provide this service and have been shown to reduce delinquent behavior, but like any other program, the quality of the ASP will determine the level of impact.  Research suggests that positive outcomes are strongest in programs that incorporate a high emphasis on social skills and character development – such as the curricula currently offered by the Lionheart Foundation.  ASP’s that incorporate emotional literacy would be a great tool to eliminate delinquency and keep kids in school.

4.     Improve Educational Services for Children Already in the Justice System – The Sentencing Project notes that despite the strong connection between school truancy, dropouts, and delinquency, reenrolling youth leaving detention into school is a low priority for the justice system. Most children involved in the criminal justice system will eventually get out.  As noted, failure to attend school is strongly co-related with delinquency, making linkages with education a vital part of reducing recidivism.   A number of barriers prevent justice-involved kids from availing themselves of the benefits of education.  For example, education within prisons and jails is generally substandard, and children locked in adult facilities often receive no education services at all, making reintegration to school upon release intellectually and emotionally overwhelming.  The result is that two-thirds of children leaving closed detention never return to school.

Reentry programs that focus on school reintegration are a crucial component of preventing recidivism.   It’s important to note that around 70% of youth sentenced to some form of confinement have been convicted of strictly non-violent acts.   It is therefore imperative to ensure that those children stay out of prison to prevent them from adopting the behaviors of other incarcerated persons who may be engaging in higher levels of violence and offending.

 In 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the joint Supportive School Discipline Initiative, which includes, among other things, the development of a consensus report on strategies to block the school-to-prison pipeline.  There is already consensus on the recommendations above, let’s not wait another moment to begin implementing changes that can improve children’s lives.


Denise Tomasini-Joshi is an attorney of Hispanic descent and expert in
criminal justice policy.  She has most recently worked on issues
related to vulnerable populations involved in the criminal justice
system, and on alleviating the harms of unnecessary pretrial
detention.  Ms. Tomasini-Joshi is a graduate of Columbia Law School
and the Columbia University School of International and Public
Affairs.  She has worked on criminal justice reform globally, and has
published in English and Spanish.  In September Ms. Tomasini-Joshi
will join the International Harm Reduction Program of the Open Society
Foundations as Deputy Director.  Follow her on Twitter @DMTJoshi.