Scholar Category: Criminal Justice/Incarceration

Timothy Chavez

Major: Business

Project: Working with a partner and taking the task of getting the youth in some communities out of gangs, violence, and drugs. Focus on the areas where we used to live and help with those communities.

Inspiration: I come from an area where I’ve seen a lot of youth violence and was close to being a part of it and I want to end the cycle of young kids dying. I have family members on the same path and I hope to get them out of that life.

Future Plans: I hope to get kids off the streets and give them a chance in this life without death or prison. I really want to make a difference in these kids life to know there is another way out.

Andrea Flores Pereida

Major: Sociology with a Concentration in Criminology

Project: Develop stricter and more organized regulations in my community to reduce the chances of gun violence. Supporting gun violence survivors.

Inspiration: My family was a victim of gun violence and we never got the justice we deserved. Also, we live in a world of uncertainty and fear so it’s important to address the bigger issues that add to that fear.

Future Goals: I want to be a tiny part of the change to make the world a better place in terms of gun violence. I want to help bring a little bit of ease and peace back to people in my communities.

Jonathan Hardwick

Major: Psychology

Project: I want to provide an educational foundation as well as job preparation for the community by developing a mutual aid with volunteer teachers and career counselors. I would like to develop this program so it could be made available to vulnerable populations such as formerly or presently incarcerated individuals. If possible, I would also like to get the program approved as a sentencing diversion program making it an alternative to traditional criminal sentencing.

Inspiration: I was inspired to pursue this when I took an introductory class in forensic psychology, which taught me the correlation between education and crime as well as the immense racial and mental health disparities in the criminal justice system. These issues quickly became important to me because I felt that I could help change them with the career I am pursuing within the criminal justice field.

Future Goals: I hope to create more free education opportunities for people that have been negatively impacted by the criminal justice system and other racially inequitable systems.

Manna Lee Naumann

Major: Criminal Justice & Criminology and Japanese

Project: Working with police to create more comprehensive training in order to bring down the number of unnecessary violent incidents.

Inspiration: The police are currently in a crisis and have not been handling the situation well. I believe that American society has to create a better police force soon or risk more unnecessary violence.

Future Plans: I hope to create a more prepared police force that is taught more than shooting first and asking questions later.

Betelhem “Betty” Tewodros

Major: Computer Science

Project: This year I plan on working with the Denver Police Department and a body cam company to prevent Police brutality. When police wear body cams, their actions are, and their power put in check. Which is already being implemented; however, many underfunded police departments can’t afford to buy cams and so don’t have the same amount of responsibility, which often can result in unchecked police brutality. Some police officers have figured out that you can turn off cameras and tamper with the evidence so they can get away with certain crimes they might have committed. To solve this issue, I propose the creation of an independent third party monitoring group entirely funded by tax money. This group would monitor police activity and conduct and vet their operations every week. My multi-year plan is to support and gather taxpayer money.

Inspiration: Seeing all the brutality on TV and the Police brutality seems to be on those who come from a low-income background which I am and minority families suffer under the oppression of the powerful in our society.

Future Plans: I hope to be able to get a body cam that is controlled by a company so the cops won’t be able to turn it off or delete evidence for the safety of the civilians and also minorites who are most likely targets of police brutality.

Dom Baca

Project: For my project I will learn more about the inner workings of the Restorative Justice disciplinary system and use my knowledge to start by educating first my high school about this process and work to help the implement it. Then after I will begin to reach out to other schools and do the same so that way I may have a bigger impact. This in turn will be my way to combat racism and the school to prison pipeline by decreasing suspensions and law enforcement action taken against students. This, in the end, help create a better future for minority students through equality.

Inspiration: As a high school student I noticed that when going to a minority school and talking to members of my community my school was often seen as the ghetto or the bad school. I was always confused by this because my peers were such compassionate and loving people. I then began to notice where this ideology was coming from. It came from how the students reacted to being mistreated by the faculty of the school. This is what the community saw. This ideology became real for me when I was sitting in class one day. As I sat at my desk, I noticed a teacher put in a new policy in their class that I did not agree with. I began to question why the teacher put in this new policy. I also found loopholes and pointed them out to the teacher. Later that day, I was taken out of class by security which brought me to the assistant principal’s office and told that I was going to be suspended for being disrespectful and talking back to a teacher. This did not sit well with me because I was a 4.0 gpa student and was seen as one of the leaders of the school. Luckily, I managed to get out of the suspension. This situation had always seemed injust to me. The pure fact that I was almost suspended for asking a question that a teacher did not like came from how some of the teachers and administrators at the school views and mistreat the minority students. Now that I am in college I now see how that would have affected my ability to get into college and I realized that many students fall victim to this. I would like to now go back and discuss with the faculty how their treatment of the students is not only affecting them, but it is affecting the school’s reputation in the community. This is where I got my idea for my community engagement project. I want to stand up for the social justice of the students and show the faculty why what they are doing is wrong and how it can be improved.

Future Plans for Project: With my civic engagement project I plan to accomplish my goal of implementing a more equal and fair system for dealing with behavioral issues. If I could spread this ideology to schools all through out the Colorado area I know I will have an impact on the improvement of the lives of minority students.


Jessica Rangel

Project:  My Puksta project is furthering the prison activism work done by students at CU Denver. I have continued letter writing to inmates, editing the annual magazine, and distributing to other prison activists and political entities.

Inspiration: Prison activism ties together so many aspects that are involved in my life. The prison justice system is influenced by race, class, and power.

Future Plans for Project: As I have discussed with classmates and professors, I do not plan to bring down prison walls. However, I do believe this work will give a few people back the humanity they had stripped away when they entered prison. Additionally, this work can be shared to change the perceptions about inmates and prisons, and the harm this system does to our society.

Claire Shannon

Project: I hope to explore how food can serve as a form of intervention, empowerment, and restoration for incarcerated populations. A number of jails and prisons around the nation are implementing vegetable gardens, cooking classes, and other restorative food practices into their facilities. I plan to do more extensive research on such projects and gather community stakeholders together to start conversations about incorporating similar programming into Denver-area correctional facilities.

Inspiration: Through my own experiences, I see food as a primary method for building community and human connection. Additionally, cooking and eating with other people can be therapeutic, healing, and restorative. Once I started working within the prison system, I noticed how damaging some of the food practices can be for those who are incarcerated and how few food-related initiatives exist in the facilities I worked in.

Future Plans for Project: In the coming months, I hope to start conversations with community stakeholders about what improvements can be made to the food practices in Denver correctional facilities and the potential food-related programming that could be implemented into these facilities to bring about restoration and healing.

Erin Roney

Project: To put together a nonprofit that will teach those who have been incarcerated the skills it takes to prepare for a job interview and provide interview attire for them.

Inspiration: After researching what the Puksta Foundation is about, I thought it would be a good fit for me.

Future Plans for Project: Help those who need help the most but giving them skills they can carry with them to have a successful life.

Aliyah Williams

Project: I am conducting research on the various mental health policies that effect incarcerated people and ways to reform policy. Prison environments promote unhealthy behavior and recidivism rates that affect all communities. I hope to promote mental health awareness and provide incarcerated people with more opportunities to improve their livelihoods.

Inspiration: I want to debunk the many myths people have about mental illness and address the reasons why it is a serious topic that society needs to inform people about.

Future Plans for Project: Provide an outlet for people with mental illnesses to have a voice and advocate for themselves without fear of receiving judgment from others, but to also make mental health a more talked about topic by those who don’t experience the struggles that those with mental health issues face everyday.