SLC Steering Committee

Doug Smith

Doug Smith is the Senior Policy Analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), working to end mass incarceration and expand opportunity for people upon release from jail and prison. He is the founding member of the Statewide Leadership Council; whose membership includes leaders from across the state who have been impacted by the criminal legal system. Doug is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Policy at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, and he trains advocates nationally on effective legislative strategy. He serves on the Board of the Austin Sobering Center. He graduated magna cum laude from St. Edward’s University in 1994 and earned his MSSW from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000.

Maggie Luna

Maggie Luna is a graduate of Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. During Texas’ 2019 legislative session she participated as part of the Women’s Legislative Team, which successfully passed legislation defending the dignity of incarcerated women. Her work led her to become the current Hogg Foundation Peer Policy Fellow at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), where she coordinates the Statewide Leadership Council and advances local and state policies to transform the justice system. Maggie was first arrested in 1996 as a juvenile and began to cycle in and out of the system; her last arrest was in 2017, and she now uses her 20 years of justice system involvement to assist in addressing the needs of system-involved women and their families. She serves as a member in multiple organizations and coalitions working to transform youth and adult justice systems to promote safer communities. She believes in elevating the importance of justice for women, as well as speaking with policymakers, judges, and CASA workers about improving safety for children when Child Protective Services in involved. She is also interested in expanding the use of certified peers to connect people with recovery-based supports following release from jail or prison.

Savannah Eldrige

Savannah Eldrige is the founder of Be Frank, Inc., which supports practices that improve indigent defense in appointed counsel systems, advocates for sentence reform, and promotes the legal empowerment of litigants and families. Be Frank, Inc., was formed in veneration of Savannah’s brother Frank. In her effort to aid him through his own appeal process, Savannah recognized that barriers such as lack of procedural knowledge and limited access to legal reference materials can inhibit a defendant’s ability to meet procedural requirements. Since then, she has been committed to lobbying for transparency in judicial practices and creating clearer pathways for post-conviction relief. Savannah is an active member of the Texas Prisons Air Conditioning Advocates, National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the Women’s Legislative Team, which was formed during Texas’ 2019 legislative session to champion the dignity and rights of incarcerated women. She is a mother of three, has enjoyed a professional career as a nurse for 20 years, and resides in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Norma Herrera

Norma Herrera is originally from Tamaulipas, Mexico, and was raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Growing up undocumented, Norma realized from a young age that criminalization hurts families. Having experienced the terror of her parents being detained and deported, Norma knew that the laws that separate families and put human beings in cages are cruel and immoral. Recently, she has worked in policy research and community organizing. Norma has been involved with Grassroots Leadership and allied community projects, including Youth Rise Texas, ICE Out of Austin, and La Linea Defensa Comunitaria, an immigrant hotline. Norma studied Psychology and obtained a Master's degree in public policy in 2013. She went on to provide Medicaid research support for the Texas Legislature for three years and later served as a health policy consultant. She is grateful to be learning from others in the Statewide Leadership Council and working together to decarcerate Texas.

Faylita Hicks

Faylita Hicks (she/her/they) is a writer and directly-impacted organizer specializing in pretrial justice reform in rural communities and the cultural impact of trauma on queer Black people. They are the author of the poetry collection HoodWitch (Acre Books, 2019) and the Managing Editor of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada College and were awarded fellowships from Lambda Literary, Jack Jones Literary Arts, and Tin House. A finalist for the 2018 PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship, Faylita was also awarded grants from the San Marcos Arts Commission in 2017 and 2019. In December 2019, their incarceration story was featured in PBS’s Independent Lens Documentary Series. Their writing has been published or is forthcoming in Adroit, Barrelhouse, The Cincinnati Review, Huffington Post, Longreads, Poetry Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Daily, The Rumpus, Slate Magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer, and others.

Steve Huerta

Steve Huerta is an activist, speaker, former candidate for Texas House District 125, and pioneer in the use of data analytics to engage criminal justice system-impacted, disadvantaged, and poor communities. He has served in senior roles on several local, state, and national organizing campaigns. He is a contributing author to the New Jim Crow Organizing Guide by Daniel Hunter and Winning Our Boys Back by Chris Cannon, and he is a former Yale University School of Medicine Research Fellow trained in community-based research, cognitive interviewing, and food and resource insecurities. He is also former Writing Fellow with the Center for Community Change with published articles. Steve has over 15 years’ experience working with justice system-impacted families, adults, and youth maneuvering Child Protective Services and the courts; he is also a specialist in family reunification. He is an adult and teen parent educator and an experienced specialist trained in violence intervention and prevention. In 2010, he co-founded the All of Us or None Youth Alternative to Incarceration Program, which provided a space for youth to learn life skills and character development with a success rate of 98 percent. Today, Steve continues to advocate for struggling families, children, and at-risk communities.

Carl Hunter

Carl F. Hunter II, M.Div., received his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, and his Master of Divinity Degree from New Brunswick Theological Seminary. He is also an ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Carl recently completed his certifications for Reentry Employment Specialist and Reentry Peer Support Specialist. Carl is a person with sustained recovery from substance use disorder; he has also been directly impacted by the justice system, and he is a parent of a child who is currently serving time in the Colorado prison system. He has over 20 years of experience in community organizing, organizational development, programmatic design, project planning, and personnel training. In 2017, Carl moved to Austin from New Jersey. The following year, he was awarded a two-year fellowship by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. As a Peer Policy Fellow, Carl has worked in Austin for Recovery People, a recovery-based peer- and family-led nonprofit organization. During Texas’ 2019 legislative session, he championed two recovery housing bills. Carl was recently recognized by the Austin Chapter of the NAACP and appointed to the Executive Board of the Travis County Reentry Roundtable.

David Johnson

David Johnson is a highly effective advocate and public speaker. With his experience as an organizer and policy analyst, David has inspired many activists to speak up for change. He draws upon his own personal experience with incarceration, trauma, mental illness, and substance use disorder to create meaningful reform. His efforts focus on securing divestment from institutional practices that only cause harm and create vulnerable communities. David works to expand investments in restorative, health-centered solutions to these extreme social issues. Serving as a member of the criminal justice team at Grassroots Leadership, David is also the lead organizer for Texas Advocates for Justice in Austin, as well as a member of the Community Strategy Team for Dell Medical School’s Department of Population Health. David is a Peer Policy Fellow with the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and continues to push for restoration for the community.

Roderick McNeely

Roderick McNeely is a graduate of the Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. Through lived experience, he has gained a passion for criminal justice advocacy. Roderick volunteers inside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and speaks publicly to provide reentry opportunities for others like him. In 2002, Roderick pleaded guilty and accepted a 10-year sentence for a charge that was a direct result of his addiction. When Roderick was released in 2010 after spending eight years behind bars, it was with a focus on helping people reenter the community after incarceration. He has been actively working for system reforms that will assist others caught up in the system, including those who have had to struggle with drug addiction. For instance, Roderick wants better housing options for reintegrating citizens and uses his experience to decrease the likelihood of relapse and recidivism. During Texas’ 2019 legislative session, he helped draft bills and continues working to ease the reentry process for men being released from prison. He believes that closing the door in the face of those that need help will only decrease public safety. Roderick is the President of BBAM Foundation and an active member of the ACLU’s Dallas Advisory Board.

Lori Mellinger

Lori Mellinger is a former newspaper writer and editor from East Texas. In the midst of a longtime addiction to pills and alcohol, she violated her probation in Smith County, Texas, and went on to serve two years of a six-year sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. While in prison, Lori decided to make drastic changes in her life. She paroled to a faith-based women’s transitional housing ministry in Abilene, a city she had no ties to. It was at New Beginnings-Big Country (NBBC) that she found her calling: to help women in similar circumstances walk a path to freedom. After nine months at NBBC, Lori took over a large portion of the organization’s paperwork, letter-writing ministry, and newsletters. She attended a 13-week career development training program, FaithWorks of Abilene, which put her in an unpaid internship with United Way of Abilene. From there, Lori worked with Americorps VISTA for United Way of Abilene for a year, learning everything she could about the nonprofit sector. She created structure and systems for sustainability for NBBC and took it to a different funding level, winning the organization’s first-ever grants. With NBBC recently earning a place as a partner agency with United Way of Abilene, Lori will become the organization’s first paid staff member. She wrote a grant application for and was awarded $5,000 for a social enterprise project through Community Foundation of Abilene, as well as an $80,000 match to buy one of the homes that NBBC currently rents. Lori believes that relationships are key to successful funding and that passion drives change.

Margie O’Neal

Margarita (Margie) O’Neal, LCDC, works as a Substance Abuse Counselor at Azleway Substance Abuse Program in Big Sandy, Texas. Margie is active in the community with at-risk adolescent males who are ordered into residential substance abuse treatment by the juvenile court system. Margie has lived experience with incarceration and is a graduate of the Truth Be Told Program. After being released from prison in 2007, she attended Texas State Technical College, where she graduated with an Associate’s degree in Applied Science with an emphasis in Chemical Dependency. She received her counseling license shortly after graduation. In 2018, Margie graduated from Aspen University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Addiction Psychology. She currently attends Walden University, where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health. Margie volunteers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Meals on Wheels, and Truth Be Told. She feels the calling to advocate for changes in the criminal justice system in order to end mass incarceration.

Kirsten Ricketts

Kirsten Ricketts is the Founder/Director of Women’s Services at Restorer Of City Streets, a 501(c)3 organization in Livingston, Texas, that is dedicated to transforming the lives of previously incarcerated women through a Christ-centered alternative to secular housing and rehabilitation. Kirsten was not only previously incarcerated herself but met and married Jeremy Ricketts, who is currently serving a 50-year sentence at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. This union opened doors to advocate on a very personal level for those currently and previously incarcerated. In 2018, Kirsten participated in the inaugural class of the Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. During Texas’ 2019 legislative session, she joined the Women’s Legislative Team to fight for a bill that would consider a parent’s status as a primary caretaker of a child during sentencing – the brainchild of Lauren Johnson (ACLU of Texas). She also helped advocate for change through the Women’s Dignity Act with Lindsey Linder (Texas Criminal Justice Coalition). Furthermore, Kirsten worked on the Independent Oversight & Earned Time Credit initiative with the Texas Inmate Families Association. Kirsten completed her Bachelor of Science in Biblical Counseling from The College of Biblical Studies. She is due to graduate from Regent University in 2021 with a Master’s degree in Human Services.

Jennifer Toon

Jennifer Toon is a formerly incarcerated activist with a passion for criminal justice reform. Toon was originally adjudicated under Texas determinate sentencing laws as a teenager. She has 25 years of criminal justice involvement as both a juvenile and an adult. For the past 10 years, Jennifer has served as a columnist for The Echo, the Texas prison system’s newspaper. She is well known for her regular column, “A Women’s Perspective,” and her writings have been a source of hope to many people while incarcerated. Most recently, Jennifer has been published in The Texas Observer, The Marshall Project, and The Guardian. She currently lives in East Texas and continues to inspire others through her YouTube channel. Jennifer is committed to bringing about change for women left behind. She believes there is still much to be done for reform and progress, and she supports the healing of incarcerated women.