Who We Are
Jessica Hall, LMSW, Executive Director
Prior to founding Prison Writes Jessica worked as a community activist in the areas of healthcare, housing, and intergenerational programming. As a Social Worker Jessica has worked for City Government, Public Schools and Alternative to Incarceration Programs. Jessica has over two decades experience in providing direct services to individuals, families and communities in New York City. Jessica graduated with honors from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College with a focus on Community Organizing.
Karen Thomas, English Teacher, Fundraising and Outreach
Karen was born and raised in Rensselaer, New York. Graduating from Oneonta University in 1969, she taught high school English and writing in Rensselaer public schools until her arrest in 1982 for the murder of her abusive ex-husband.
During her almost 35 year incarceration, Karen sought every opportunity to advocate for and support other women. She taught GED and ESL, was a college tutor, and assisted women with legal work and resume writing. Karen translated the REACH curriculum into Spanish, and provided training in transmittable disease prevention, as well as AIDS counseling and education.
Karen is a founding member of the Family Violence Program which is a national model for other correctional facilities. The program improved outcomes for women in the criminal justice system for acts of self-defense against their abusers, requiring juries to consider abuse as a mitigating circumstance, using Karen’s experience as an example, as well as other women who testified at the first public domestic violence hearing held in a maximum-security facility.
Karen is fluent in Spanish and provided translation for women for medical appointments, parole, and TRC . While at Albion Karen took a legal research class, going on to work full time in the law library when she moved to Taconic.
Karen currently works as a paralegal in New York City.
Charles Salzberg, Writing Advisor
Charles Salzberg is novelist and writing instructor. He is the author of the Shamus Award Nominated Swann's Last Song, and the two sequels, Swann Dives In and Swann's Lake of Despair, which was a Finalist for the Beverly Hills Book Award and the Indie Excellence Award. He is also author of Devil in the Hole, which Suspense magazine named one of the Best Crime Novels of 2013. He has written for such periodicals as Esquire, New York magazine, Redbook, Elle, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Arts and Leisure Section. He was a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and he has also taught writing at Sarah Lawrence, Hunter College, the Writer's Voice, and the New York Writers Workshop (NYWWW) , where he is Vice President and a Founding Member.
Marion Valladares Smith, Literacy Specialist and Advisor
Marion is a naturalized American citizen from India who has taught adults how to use a second language since beginning her teaching career in Valencia, Spain, having received a BA in Sociology from the University of Bombay. After six years on the faculty of the Alliance Française de Bombay, she completed training as a Trilingual Translator in Paris. Because Language has always been her interest, she went back to school to earn an MA degree in the Teaching of Languages at the University of Southern Mississippi.
In New York, she was tenured as the teacher of Spanish at the Little Red Schoolhouse and the Elizabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village. She has taught speaking, reading, writing and comprehension at Jesuit programs in rural India for ten years, trained urban schoolteachers in Bombay and Goa and most recently coached adults with disabilities in Tennessee. She has been a volunteer teacher at Columbia’s Outreach Program and currently at the Institute for Immigrant Concerns. And starting this year, Marion has agreed to work with Prison Writes to reduce the most recent wave of Mass Incarceration.
Kahlil Koromantee, Advisor, Education and Counseling
Kahlil recieved his Masters degree in Applied Psychology and Counseling from New York University. He is a New York State certified English teacher using life-coaching techniques specifically geared for teens and young adults whose personal conflicts get in the way of their academic success and overall development. His experience encompasses teaching at the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center at Riker’s Island and over a decade as a Counselor for at risk students at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Khalil works with youth who are in the criminal or family court system, aging out of foster care, attending male-based programs, transitioning from High School to College, or struggling with their sexual identity. He is adept at motivating hard to reach youths who’ve suffered trauma and disappointment. He is especially concerned about underserved Black young males and females who could benefit from more non-traditional educational approaches.
Khalil is the author of several books of poetry; his book ‘Message to a Youngblood’ is part of the youth program Yo! Baltimore’s curriculum.
Christian Claudio, Advisor, Youth Engagement & Re-entry
Christian Claudio was born in the George Washington Carver Housing Projects in Spanish Harlem, and is a former drug dealer, gang member and formerly incarcerated. During his incarceration Chris underwent a transformation, left the gang, and committed his life to reaching and educating fellow inmates. On September 1, 2005, after serving fifteen years of a thirty-seven year sentence, he was released on parole. Since his release Chris has dedicated his life to educating youth.
He is a certified New York State Gang Specialist and founder of a not-for-profit organization, “Throggs Neck – La Famiglia”. The organization focuses on reaching out to troubled youth through anti-gang & anti-bullying intervention, prevention, and awareness. Chris is currently employed by the City of New York at the Administration for Children’s Services as a Youth Advocate where he oversees the Juvenile non-secure placement facilities in New York City for the purpose of assuring that the rights of juveniles are not being violated while in the agency’s care.
Tim O'Mara, Writing Teacher
O’Mara’s debut novel, the Raymond Donne mystery Sacrifice Fly (2012), was nominated for the 2013 “Best First Novel” Barry Award. The novel introduced the series hero, Raymond Donne, an ex-cop who now teaches in the same Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood he once policed. The next three in the series — Crooked Numbers (2013), Dead Red (2015), and Nasty Cutter (2016) — received similar critical acclaim. Tim lives in Manhattan, where he currently teaches an ongoing writing workshop and writes full-time, having retired in 2017 from a 30-year career as a New York City public middle school special education teacher. He is also the author of several short stories and two novellas, and is working on So Close to Me, a stand-alone high school-based crime drama. O’Mara made his editorial debut in April 2019 with Down to the River, a crime anthology of short stories set on or near American rivers. He is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America (New York Chapter Board), PEN America, Irish American Writers & Artists, and International Thriller Writers.