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.
Lee Means, Educational Specialist, Diversity Advisor
Lee A. Means (he/him/his) is the Director of Family Equity & Justice at Family Equality. He is a long time New York City educator with a background in law and the performing arts. He taught in various K-12 environments as a teacher and teacher leader in NYC and Newark, NJ. His first job in New York City was with HIV positive children and families at Birch Summer Projects as a volunteer camp counselor for two summers; which was a formative moment regarding the challenges that families who are structured differently face.
Lee has A Bacherlor of Arts, Religious Studies, and Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Indiana University. Lee also has a Masters of Science, Education Policy degre from University of Pennsylvania. He has studied coursee in Dutch and European Law at Vrije Universiteiet in Amsterdam and ESADE in Barcelona. All these experiences contribute to Lee's identity as a lifelong learner.
The unifying element of Lee's work is his engagement with a diverse group of stakeholders, especially with families and children. Coming from a large diverse family, it is natural for Lee to navigate towards families and seek to understand how they funcion regardless of geography, composition, socioeconmic status, race, gender identity, citizenry, ethnicity, and sexualiry.
Lee is a vegan, a runner, a jokester, a traveler and an active listener with an insatiable curiosity for uncovering the bridge bewteen the peresonal, the political , and the spiritual.
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.
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.