Back to School


Jon Thaxton, Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice and The Honorable Andy Owens with Ruslan at Strong Voices in April

Stability makes a profound difference in anyone’s ability to move forward yet it’s especially important for formerly incarcerated citizens as they attempt to put their lives back together after release.

Ruslan, who has gained stability as a Project 180 resident, is on his way to realizing his long-term dream of opening a videography business. A couple of months ago, he started school at Suncoast Technical College where he’s already produced a short video as part of his homework.
Ruslan is gifted in languages, mathematics, and music, is kind-hearted, soft-spoken, and working hard on his recovery. He expects to graduate in March or April, 2020.
When asked what he’d like readers to know about him, he replied, “Thanks to  Karina Clarke at Drug Court and Project 180, I’ve discovered there’s a different way to live after having chased an illusion [drugs] for so many years. Having people there who will support me and being part of Narcotics Anonymous have drastically changed my life. Now I have goals. I’m a full-time student, am working, just got a vehicle, and will soon be driving. I had to change everything about myself. And it’s working.”
Ruslan is also the recipient of a local dentist’s generosity. Thanks to volunteer Olivia Weinberger and her dentist (who wishes to remain anonymous), Ruslan is receiving full dental care including 17 extractions, two bridges, and dentures.
You’re doing a great job, Ruslan! We love having you in the program!

Dinner with S. H. Representative Margaret Good
Margaret Good with Garrett, Ruslan, Mike and Barb
Margaret Good with Kay Mathers
An important aspect of the Residential Program is creating a new social network as part of the reintegration process. Many formerly incarcerated citizens feel disconnected from society at large so getting to know mainstream citizens and government officials can be an important part of reintegrating into community life.
During their time in the program, the men have had the pleasure of meeting and establishing functional relationships with the State Attorney Ed Brodsky (“and it wasn’t in a courtroom!” quipped one resident), Public Defender Larry Eger, local judges, foundation representatives, and numerous county officials and mainstream citizens.
On September 9th, State House Representative Margaret Good and her aide, Kay Mathers, joined the men for a delicious meal planned and cooked by one of the residents. The evening gave the men a glimpse of Rep. Good’s world and vice versa.
Thanks for joining us, Representative Good. The men learned a lot and we hope you now have a better understanding of the challenges they face and the many contributions they can make to our community and economy.

Book ‘Em, Part II
Individual Literacy Training
The first phase of the Book ‘Em Project at DeSoto Annex State Prison in Arcadia is nearing completion. Individual Literacy Training (ILT), conceived of and directed by Judy Gee, began the project with a small measure of help from Project 180 some months ago to provide a new book for every inmate who wanted one. Judy works with several inmates in leadership positions who have taken ownership of the project. Messrs. Tennity, Solomon, Forbes, and White have plans to expand Book ‘Em to enhance the lives of prisoners at DeSoto Annex.
With the distribution of 600 books about to happen any day, the men behind the project are making plans for future events and activities. A plan is in the works for “Book Talk” discussions in the library so inmates can gather from 6:00 to 8:00 pm to discuss a book, either the one they ordered or another they might be interested in.
Goals behind the book distribution include stimulating a love of reading and encouraging inmates to share their books with others. Another is to let incarcerated men know that ILT is available to help any low-literate inmate who wishes to improve his reading skills. Approximately 40% of inmates in the Florida state prison system have a fifth grade literacy level or lower so ILT and Book ‘Em are important contributions to the welfare of our friends and neighbors in prison.
Following are some comments by Messrs. Tennity, Solomon, Forbes, and White, the men behind the scenes:
Mr. Tennity: “The Book ‘Em initiative has allowed the men here [at DeSoto Annex State Prison] an opportunity to expand their horizons through the adventure of reading. Regardless of the type of book, it allows the reader to travel and experience something new and different at the turn of a page.
“I am thrilled to be a part of this initiative, watching it grow from a mere thought to something of this caliber. Ms. Gee has been great to work with and she has done an outstanding job from the inception to its final stages. And it’s just the beginning….”
Mr. Solomon: “In the face of adversity, you can escape through reading.
“It is inevitable, the better you read and the more knowledge you accumulate, your chances of succeeding after prison elevates. Book ‘Em affords men the opportunity to become better readers by providing them with their own personal book. I am honored, but humbled, to be part of the Book ‘Em Movement.”
Mr. Forbes: “Literacy disposes of ignorance. The more you read the more knowledgeable you become. There is something to be learned from any book.”
Mr. White: “Life began when I began to learn. I hope that learning will empower those who receive these books.”
When Mr. White entered prison in 1990, he was unable to read. Since becoming literate, he has read over 1,000 books and learned four languages. He is currently studying Italian.

Fare Well to Board Member James Holmes
James Holmes (left) shown with Christina Pitchford and Gary Keller at Project 180’s Celebrity Bartending Event at the Polo Grill in 2012
Long-term Project 180 friend, board member, former board chair, and generous supporter James Holmes has rolled off the board to give more time to projects closer to home. Despite living and working in Augusta, Georgia, James returned to board membership two years ago when the organization was at a critical juncture. His good heart and good sense always brought humor, compassion, visionary thinking, and balance to the board and clients of Project 180.
We met James through Leadership Sarasota in 2010 when he was Director of Circulation and Marketing at the Herald Tribune Media Group in Sarasota. In addition to his work at the HT and Project 180, James was deeply involved in the Manasota area, serving on the Small Business Council and Leadership Council of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and on the Advisory Board and Executive Committee for the Manatee Economic Development Council. James is now VP of Sales for The Augusta Chronicle.
A dedicated husband and loving father of two, James is active in his church and in programs that work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated citizens.
We’ll miss you, James. You’ve brought so much to our small but mighty organization and got us off to a wonderful start. Thank you for all you’ve done and the dedication you continue to show to Project 180 and this work.

Welcome to Board Member Joe Malave
Joe Malave with volunteer Linda Bruns
Joe Malave started out like many board members at Project 180: as a guest at the Strong Voices Lecture Series.
A wealth advisor with Raymond James & Associates, Joe came to a luncheon with volunteer Linda Bruns. He then became a Project 180 Financial Literacy Instructor at the jail where he specializes in teaching budgeting and long-term investments. Before he knew it, we’d recruited him to join the board.
Good-natured, smart, and funny, Joe made an excellent first impression with the other board members by contributing great ideas and offering his help wherever it’s needed.
Welcome to the Board, Joe! We’re all looking forward to working with you in your new capacity.

Message from the CEO
It’s such an honor to have a first-hand view of the accomplishments and achievements of our residents, all the others who benefit from Project 180’s programs and initiatives, and the impact of your gifts of time, talent, and treasure.

The Residential Program, the CEO Workforce Education Program, Financial Literacy Course, Information & Referral service, the Strong Voices lecture series, and Book ‘Em: these programs all add up to helping reentrants successfully participate in community life as law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.

Thank you for helping our residents and the recipients of our programs realize their potential and their dreams.

With warmest good wishes,
Barbara Richards
Project 180