The Roundatble Advocacy Fellowship is an innovative program designed for formerly incarcerated persons with lived experience navigating the criminal justice system.
Fellows work closely with the Roundtable Executive Committee and consultants to develop their leadership skills and become competent and professional advocates for criminal justice system-involved individuals. At the same time, Fellows help build capacity for the Roundtable by providing administrative, communications, planning, coordination, advocacy, and policy support.
The Advocacy Fellowship plays a critical role in supporting the Reentry Advocacy Project (RAP), an affiliated group of formerly incarcerated men and women who meet monthly to provide support and connect to resources utilizing a mutual aid self-help model.
The Fellowship is structured as a 20-hour per week contractor position, with two Fellows typically serving concurrently - a Senior Fellow and a Junior Fellow. The Senior Fellow provides supervision and mentorship to the Junior Fellow.
Spotlight on Past Fellows
The first two graduates of the Fellowship program are women who experienced significant barriers to employment. Both are now employed in full-time positions in the advocacy and legislative arenas.
Laurie Pherigo began her Advocacy Fellowship in October 2018.
Laurie brings a wide variety of experiences to this position, both from her past employment and from her life itself. Laurie has worked in the administrative/customer service field most of her adult life in environments ranging from law firms to automotive shops.
As a woman with lived experience in the criminal justice system consisting of 6 years in TDCJ and 3 years on parole, she strives to turn the difficult and negative circumstances she endured while incarcerated into positive change for those being released as well as those still in prison.
Laurie’s goals for her fellowship include working with TDCJ to connect soon-to-be released men and women with obtainable, useful resources that will help them establish a stable and productive new life. For those still incarcerated, Laurie will support efforts to have the “nature of the crime” removed as a rationale for denying parole by the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.
Lauren Johnson served as the first Roundtable Advocacy Fellow starting in 2015. After serving her term, she began working as Criminal Justice Outreach Coordinator at the ACLU of Texas.
She shared the following thoughts on her term as Fellow:
What were your major accomplishments as a Fellow? “Getting to be part of a coalition of other formerly incarcerated people in the fight to win a fair chance hiring ordinance in Austin, and preventing the preemption of it at the state level even in the face of over half of the legislators signing on to the bill as co-sponsors. I am especially proud of having helped formulate the fellowship and create this opportunity for not only the Roundtable but for other people with criminal histories to be able to do this important work.”
In what ways do you think the fellowship program impacts the Reentry Roundtable? “Not only is the Roundtable walking the walk by incorporating the voices of people with lived experience in the criminal justice system, but we are seeing phenomenal outcomes as a result."
Annette Price started her Advocacy Fellowship with the Roundtable in February 2017. By the second year of the Fellowship, multiple career opportunities began to materialize and in June 2018 she took a position as the Texas Advocates for Justice statewide coordinator with Grassroots Leadership. She now organizes formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, people of all faiths, and allies to build safe and resilient communities through organizing, leadership training, and connections to community resources.
Annette shared some thoughts on her term as Advocacy Fellow:
In what ways did the Fellowship advance your criminal justice knowledge? "It provided me with a deeper insight into the work we have ahead to end mass incarceration and change barriers to successful reentry for those returning to the community with a criminal background(s)."
What were your major accomplishments as a Fellow? "I testified at the Legislature on behalf of Fair Chance Hiring; I spoke at the Statewide Women’s Reentry Conference; I was selected by Sheriff Sally Hernandez to sit on the Women’s Jail Advisory Board; and I participated in the planning of the Roundtable's Housing Guide, which was released in April 2018."
In what ways do you think the Fellowship program impacts the Reentry Roundtable? "It is important for organizations working on criminal justice reform to collaborate with those directly impacted [by the criminal justice system]. It is because of that relationship that optimal changes are now seen daily. No matter how subtle those changes are, they are happening."