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The BreakFree Fellowship

BreakFree Education: Background

At BreakFree Education, our mission is to radically improve education in  the juvenile and adult correctional systems

  • We develop quality educational programs that inspire and engage incarcerated and recently-released students.

  • We partner directly with juvenile and criminal justice agencies across the country, providing  the resources, training, and networks to make school relevant and meaningful so students build successful, self-sufficient lives when they leave.

  • We launched and support the Travis Hill School in New Orleans, where young people held in adult jails and juvenile detention centers work towards their high school diploma.

  • We work in more than 40 states, improving education quality and delivery for more than 25,000 students each year.

  • Our work has been highlighted in the Atlantic, the Chronicle of Social Change, the Hechinger

  •  Report, the Marshall Project, and NPR, among others.

  • Our funders include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Aspen Institute, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, ECMC Foundation, Emerson Collective, Ford Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

BreakFree Education: Leadership

BreakFree Education is led by David Domenici

  • David is a long-time DC resident and one of the nation’s leading experts on education in confined  settings. Prior to founding BreakFree Education, David co-founded the Maya Angelou Schools in Washington, DC, and served as the founding principal of the Maya Angelou Academy, located inside New Beginnings, the City’s youth correctional facility. The Academy is widely considered a model for how education can and should be delivered in a correctional setting. David is a frequent writer and is oft-quoted in articles addressing solutions for providing education in juvenile and adult correctional settings.

Working with David to launch the BreakFree Fellowship is Roy Middleton

  • Roy joined BreakFree in 2020 and is the inspiration for the BreakFree Fellowship. Prior to joining BreakFree Education, Roy spent 25 years in prison for a life sentence he received in adult court at the age of 16.  While he was imprisoned, Roy earned his GED, achieved numerous awards and certifications, and maintained a 4.0 GPA  while enrolled in credit-bearing courses at Georgetown University.

Background: Why the BreakFree Fellowship?

The Fellowship directly repairs an enduring harm of mass incarceration by creating clear and accessible pathways for returning citizens to establish careers and build sustainable futures, doing work in which they believe

  • The Fellowship is designed for returning citizens who are coming home after being incarcerated for  15+ years, having been charged and convicted as adults for crimes they committed as teens and  young adults.

  • Beginning in the 1980s, in D.C. and states around the country, the number of teens charged as adults and sentenced to long sentences – including life without parole – jumped significantly, as a series of  laws passed amid concerns raised by race-related fear-mongering campaigns predicting the rise of  a Black teen 'predator' class. Hundreds of Black teens in D.C. were sentenced under this regime.

  • In 2016, the D.C. Council passed the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA). This law, as  amended in 2018 and 2020, permits incarcerated individuals to petition the court for a sentencing  review if they were convicted in adult court for an offense that occurred before their 21st birthday, and  they have served at least 15 years in prison.

Overview of the Fellowship

The BreakFree Fellowship is unique – and will be a national model to successfully support returning citizens

  • Fellows have been incarcerated for 15+ years or more, for crimes  committed as teens or young adults

  • The fellowship matches returning citizens seeking to work in social and criminal justice reform with leading local and national nonprofits

  • The 18-month, immersive, paid, on-the-job training delivers:

  •  permanent, long-term employment for Fellows, and more representative, capable organizations

  • Fellows earn $50,000 per year during the program

  • Fellows have access to a Savings & Investment Fund (for home ownership, higher education, and other traditional wealth-creation investments)

Fellowship Details

The BreakFree Fellowship is an 18-month, immersive, on-the-job training model to prepare Fellows for permanent employment and professional growth

  • Phase 1: Orientation Intensive (1 month)

    • Four-week immersive training to provide Fellows with basic technology and other tools needed on the job

  • Phase 2: Immersive Apprenticeship (11 months)

    • Individualized site- and Fellow-specific training

    • Ongoing, competency-based training with BreakFree

  • Phase 3: Employment Mastery Prep (6 months)

    • Specialization and expertise building

    • Sites and Fellows collaboratively plan for long-term employment

  • Phase 4: Permanent Full-Time Employment with Host Site

    • Fellows transition into full-time positions at host sites

Fellowship Objectives

  • For Fellows: Professional development and long-term employment

    • Master office productivity, digital media and communication skills

    • Secure a platform to amplify their voice and experiences

    • Acquire meaningful permanent positions in local and national nonprofits, with opportunity for professional growth

    • Gain access to Savings & Investment Fund

  • For Organizations: Improved capacity and long-term impact

    • Grow more diverse, more in touch

    • Employ talent with first-hand experiences to enhance the efficacy of reform efforts

    • Model expectations for returning citizens and potential employers

  • For Impact: Establish a model for other Cities and States

Funding Model: Sponsoring The Pilot Launch

2021-01-21 BreakFree Fellowship - Presen

Timing & Next Steps

  • Winter-Spring 2021

    • Finish raising $2.5 million to fund Fellowship Pilot

      • (32 Fellows – four cohorts of 8 Fellows)

      • Current/Likely Funders include: Luminate Group, Gucci Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation

      • Interested Funders include: Arnold Ventures, Blue Meridian, Aspen Institute

    • Confirm Host Sites and Select Fellows

      • Host sites include: Advancement Project, BreakFree Education, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Civil Rights Corps, Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative,  Justice Policy Institute, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, Martha’s  Table, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, Sentencing Project, United Negro College Fund

    • Refine training and implementation model

  • July 2021

    • Fellowship Launch

Impact and Scale: DC and Beyond

  • Impact: The Fellowship is Uniquely Tailored to Create Long-term Impact

    • Policy Level: State and local advocacy efforts focus on reducing excessive sentences and enacting IRAA-type laws

    • Programming Level: Immersive training model enables  returning citizens to succeed upon release and become leaders in ongoing reform efforts

    • This success serves as a proof point, supporting further reform

  • Scale: The Fellowship is Scalable to Urban Centers across the Country 

    • As IRAA-type laws pass, communities use the BreakFree model to support local Fellowships; Fellows then advocate for ongoing reform

Contacts and Additional Information

David Domenici

Executive Director



Roy Middleton: 

BreakFree Justice and Education Reform Fellow  

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