Dispatch 149: Saybrook U Alumni Making a Difference with Freedom to Choose Project


The Freedom to Choose Project (FTC) is a non-profit program co-founded by David Paul, MD, PhD, and Bonnie Paul, PhD, both graduates of Saybrook University.  The Freedom to Choose Project has received two 3-year Innovative Programming grants from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The award letter contained a very positive comment on the merit of the program:

There was very formidable competition…The application evaluation was thorough and challenging. You should take enormous pride in your selection, as well as the role you will play in expanding the Department’s rehabilitative efforts.

FTC will now be adding programs at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (SATF) in Corcoran, California. The SATF program will include a mentor program for the Youth Offender Program (YOP) at that institution. YOP is designed to pair newly incarcerated 18-22-year-old inmates with older, positive role model inmates. FTC will be training both the YOP participants and their mentors. 

FTC currently provides educational programs at three California prisons: Valley State Prison, Central California Women’s Facility, and the California Institution for Women. FTC presented over 25,000 inmate-hours of education in 2018. The programs have been called a “revolution in prison rehabilitation and reform.” 

FTC was funded in the “promising practice” category of the grant. This is defined as a program that has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing recidivism but has not yet fulfilled all the criteria to be classified as an evidence-based rehabilitation program. A major focus for FTC starting in 2019 will be research on both the qualitative and quantitative outcomes of the program. 


FTC is open for any Saybrook students who might be interested in participating as volunteers or as part of a practicum or a for-credit course. A recent Saybrook graduate, Trish Singh Ph.D., joined FTC last fall at the men’s prison, and reported a very positive experience:

Hello!  I really wanted to share with you and Bonnie my gratitude for being included in Freedom to Choose.  The weekend was extraordinary and I am still glowing from the experience of healing and witnessing such a brilliant and amazing group of volunteers.


An interesting biographical note:  Drs. David and Bonnie Paul did their first education program at Valley State Prison for Women in March 2004, the same month they started as students at Saybrook. 

More info is available on the FTC website (https://freedomtochooseproject.org/) including a preview for a documentary filmed at Valley State Prison for Men which will be released later this year.