Insight Garden Program

Core Team

Amanda Berger

Acting Co-Director

Amanda is passionate about working with social justice organizations and has a special interest in criminal justice reform, including efforts to expand quality educational opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. As Program Director, she supports IGP’s Program Managers at eleven California prisons. She is also helping to develop IGP’s “reentry bridge” doing outreach to Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California employers and community organizations to provide ongoing support for IGP’s alumni.

Amanda is a certified professional coach and consultant who works with social change leaders and nonprofits in the Bay Area and beyond. She has an extensive background in progressive philanthropy and transformational leadership development through her work with the Funders Collaborative for Youth Organizing, the Women Donors’ Network, Rockwood Leadership Institute and Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER).

Amanda was a past facilitator in training with the Victim Offender Education Group at a women’s prison in Chowchilla, CA. She is an affiliated coach with RoadMap, Rockwood Leadership Institute, the Haas Flexible Leadership Award and on the faculty of Leadership that Works. Amanda is on the board of UnCommon Law who provide pro-bono representation to people going to the parole board in CA.

Karen HsuehKaren Hsueh

Acting Co-Director

Co-Facilitator – California Medical Facility (CMF)

Karen first joined as a volunteer in 2015 and is now IGP’s Chief of Staff and Co-Facilitator at CMF. She supports IGP’s operations, coordinates a variety of projects led by IGP executive staff, and promotes team collaboration and streamlined processes between organizational systems. In addition to her work with IGP, Karen also consults with multiple California-based criminal justice reform groups. She strongly upholds the leadership and perspectives of those who have been most affected by systems of oppression and incarceration. Her life’s work strives to create intentional and inclusive community-building for healing and transformation, and to embrace each and every person’s inherent ability to love, be loved, and meaningfully contribute to the world.

Karen received a Master’s Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems from Tufts University, and earned her BA in Political Science from Marist College.

Margot Reisner

Program & Operations Associate

Co-facilitator – San Quentin State prison (SQ)

Margot first became involved with IGP in 2010 as a high school student when she volunteered at San Quentin, working on a curriculum design project. She officially joined IGP’s staff in 2018. As IGP’s Administrative Assistant and Bookkeeper, Margot coordinates office needs including organization systems, communication processes, program materials and financial information. She is involved in many aspects of IGP’s work, supporting the day-to-day organizational needs so programs can operate optimally.

Margot received her BA in Environmental Studies at Skidmore College, where she focused on sustainable food systems and eco-justice. She is a certified permaculture designer, nutritional chef and ceramic artist who has worked as an educator and activist for many years. Margot is passionate about ecological health, anti-oppression work and empowering communities by fostering meaningful connections to nature.

Brook YcianoBrook Yciano

Director of Finance and Administration

Brook has 14 years of experience in accounting and finance and is always on the lookout to find new ways in which organizations can be more efficient through the utilization of technology.  While gaining her experience as Controller for the California Institute for Mental Health, she went on to consult with various national and international non-profit agencies serving as Director of Finance.  She truly enjoys working with mission-driven non-profits, whose values she believes in. IGP’s mission hits close to home as her father was incarcerated most of her life and often wonders if he would have had more success after being released if he had been able to participate in a program like IGP’s.

In addition to her work with IGP, Brook also spends time mentoring and training fellow accountants who are looking to grow and expand their careers.

Nayasia Coleman

Programs & Community Outreach Coordinator

Americorps VISTA

Nayasia Coleman is a Black, Queer, activist, healer, and creator that holds a Bachelor of Science in Writing and Gender and Women Studies from Kennesaw State University. Her life research question lies in what her ancestors believed prior to colonization specifically looking at spirituality, identity, relationships, and education. She is heavily influenced by her Yoruban belief system, her background in Queer Theory, and Afro-futurism.

While at her alma mater, she was a part of the team to establish an on-campus LGBTQ resource center, one of few in the South, that continues to serve as a safe haven for students. She was also nominated as the Co-chair of the Presidential Commission on LGBTQ Initiatives. During her tenure in that position she was pivotal to the policy shifts to include student’s preferred pronouns on student IDs, create more LGBTQ representation in on-campus speakers, and achieve a successful consolidation with Southern Polytechnic University.

Now based in the California Bay Area, Nayasia serves as the Development Coordinator for IGP and loves the way this position creates connections that lead to more resources to do this transformative work. As an AmeriCorps Vista member she has dedicated her life to the members of our community that are most often forgotten.

Sharing her varied degree of knowledge, Nayasia has presented at Kennesaw State University’s Summit on Civil & Human Rights, Southern Fried Queer Pride, Sex Down South, and will be at South West Love Fest this April in Tucson, Arizona as well as Black Poly Pride in Washington, D.C. this upcoming summer.

Site Team

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Tyler Hart

Program Manager and Facilitator

California State Prison – Solano (CSP-SOL)
California Medical Facility (CMF)

Tyler joined IGP in 2021 as Program Manager at California State Prison, Solano (SOL) and California Medical Facility(CMF). His journey to IGP began with his own incarceration and experience. Over the span of a decade in California prisons, Tyler began a process that he would describe as, “an internal journey of mindful deconstruction and reconstruction of belief and value systems”, to transcend the barriers of incarceration, adverse childhood experiences, intergenerational trauma, and addiction. Since beginning that journey, he has worked to support and empower others to overcome their own personal adversities.

In the four years since his release, Tyler has been developing and leading trauma-informed prevention and intervention programming for systems-impacted transition-aged youth in Napa County, CA. He sits on the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council-SB 823 Subcommittee for Napa County, assisting in the development of a comprehensive long-term realignment plan to serve local youth realigned from the 2021 closure of the California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ); the Reentry Roundtable, GEO Reentry Services (Napa); and is a standing invitee at the Napa-Sonoma Division of Adult Parole (DAPO) Parole and Community Team (PACT) meetings.

While incarcerated, Tyler earned three college degrees at the Associate level from Coastline Community College(Social and Behavioral Science, Business, Arts and Humanities). After returning home, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (focus in Ethics, Justice, and Policy) from California State University, Chico. He is now completing his Master of Public Administration at University of The Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.

Michelle Vesser

Co-Facilitator

California State Prison – Solano (CSP-SOL)

Michelle has a deep connection with the natural and spiritual world.  For the past 35 years, she has passed on the knowledge and art of hand-tilled, organic agriculture. Michelle ran her own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project for 8 years, was a sustainable agriculture trainer in Mexico and Nepal, and for 12 years the garden manager and educator at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, Occidental CA.  She has been dedicated to apprenticeship learning and has mentored 50 long-term garden interns over the years.  Michelle has also studied and taught Western Herbalism, Ayurveda,  and restorative food ways using food as medicine.

For the past 20 years Michelle has also worked with many modalities of the inner landscape focused on emotional and psychological development and healing. She now offers spiritual counseling to others through individual sessions and various workshops. She is an End of Life Doula and Family Directed Funeral Guide, helping individuals and families at the end of life.  Her studies in Tibetan Bon/Buddhism has informed much of Michelle’s work in the world.

In 2017, Michelle stepped away from full time farming/gardening and began volunteering with the Insight Garden Program at California State Prison at Solano (CSP-SOL).  It has been an incredible opportunity to share her passions for gardening, inner tending, and meditation with the prison community.  She has been inspired by the capacity of this program to reconnect participants to the land and to their own ability to transform themselves. In 2021 she was welcomed on as staff and is the acting Program Manager at CSP-SOL.

Jill Plumb

Program Manager and Facilitator

California Healthcare Facility (CHCF)

Jill began her career as an adult educator and is credited with improving her school through the additions of WASC Accreditation, competency-based curriculum, and the use of varied learning styles to help all students achieve their full potential. As a teacher, she developed the Woodland Joint Unified School District K-8 Home School Program, and her documents were adopted as models for the State of California. Later, as an inventor and businesswoman, Jill designed and marketed her invention, the M Brace, to help gardeners everywhere make easy and stylish raised beds.

Jill has a deep appreciation for all her fellow beings, and expresses this in her daily meditation practice and social justice activism. She is a lifelong gardener who believes every garden is a place of growth and renewal, and every person can benefit by interacting with the natural world. She is grateful to be part of the Insight Garden team.

Joshua Gunner Johnson

Reentry Manager

Gunner first became involved with IGP as a guest speaker on behalf of Project Rebound at Sacramento State University, where he works as the Outreach Coordinator for the campus equity program that assists formerly incarcerated college students. He came on board with IGP as the Reentry Coordinator for Northern California in February 2020.

Gunner’s academic studies began while incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons where he earned an associate degree in social and behavioral science. He also worked as the law clerk where he learned how to do legal research and writing, which allowed him to help many incarcerated people with a range of legal issues. Gunner helped several people receive substantial reductions in their sentences, was granted over a dozen immediate release orders (including his own) and won a favorable remand order in a case before the United States Supreme Court (Dana Leon Brooks v. United States, 15-8015).

Following his release in 2017, Gunner enrolled at Sacramento State University with the help of Project Rebound. He graduated Summa Cum Laude and advanced to a master’s program in Sociology, where he is currently working in the field of restorative justice. The genesis of this work can be seen on CNN’s the Redemption Project, which highlights Gunner’s experience as a victim of gun violence, and his healing journey that ultimately led him to forgive the person who harmed him, and to advocate for his release.

CENTRAL VALLEY CALIFORNIA

Calliope Correa

Program Manager and Facilitator

Avenal State Prison (ASP-Yard C)

Calliope began volunteering with IGP at ASP on Yard D in July 2017 and has been the Program Manager on Yard C since July 2018. She became involved with IGP because she believes in the power of nature to heal and IGP provides an amazing opportunity to bring nature to a population that lacks access to the natural world’s beauty. She appreciates how the curriculum encourages participants to grow from within while facilitating vocational and life skills.

Calliope has a BS in Plant Science from Fresno State as well as a MS in Interdisciplinary Studies in Plant Science and Rehabilitation Counseling. She wrote her thesis on curriculum development for young adults with disabilities using horticulture to improve life and social skills. In 2015, she obtained a certificate from the Horticultural Therapy Institute and is a guest lecturer about the practical side of horticultural therapy. She is currently an Instructional Support Technician with California State University Fresno and manager of the Horticulture Nursery on the Fresno State Farm. She is passionate about getting people connected to the natural world and teaches classes to everyone from children to elders on the benefits of getting in the dirt and how to improve well-being through interaction with nature.

Sylvia HeadshotSylvia Derby

Co-Facilitator

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

Sylvia Castelino Derby is a human resources professional with a strong interest in restorative justice. She is passionate about creating spaces for deep sharing and listening. Currently, she is learning more about restorative justice and has been training to be a facilitator for circles and victim offender dialogues.

Prior to this, Sylvia worked with International Justice Mission, Mumbai and Delhi, India for nine years until Feb 2019 as Head – People & Admin Operations where she served teams combatting human trafficking issues. Before IJM she gained 7.5 years of corporate experience, including 5.5 years in investment banking at JP Morgan bank where she successfully managed the credit default swap process. Academically, Sylvia holds a Post Graduate Degree in Business Administration through Symbiosis, Pune, India specializing in Finance. Sylvia has also been on the board of a non-profit, Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) in Delhi, India since its inception and continues to serve as the Chairperson.

Katerina Friesen

Program Manager and Facilitator

Avenal State Prison (ASP-Yard D)
Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

Katerina came on board with IGP in 2017 as IGP’s Program Manager at CCWF in Chowchilla – the largest women’s prison in the country – where an incarcerated woman had been advocating for a gardening program for over a decade.  She also serves as the Program Manager at ASP-Yard D. As an avid gardener, Katerina knows intuitively that tending soil and plants is healing work, both for the Earth and for our own inner being. She is passionate about creating verdant spaces for healing and reconciliation within stark and often oppressive environments.

Katerina comes to IGP with experience starting and coordinating various farms and urban gardens, where she has cultivated food and community with groups from Mixteco farmworkers to youth in the Juvenile Justice System. Apart from her work with IGP, Katerina is a writer and educator focusing on themes of Indigenous justice, climate change, and ecology. She sees her overarching vocation as helping to build the “Beloved Community” of justice and love that prophetic voices have envisioned since ancient times. Katerina received her Masters in Divinity. in Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

Arnold Trevino

Co-facilitator and Central Valley Reentry Coordinator

Avenal State Prison (ASP)

As co-facilitator at ASP, Arnold is motivated to witness the possibilities of change. He has a strong desire to show those who are inside and outside that transformation is possible. This ethic has led him to work within the California Prisons, side-by-side with the prison population.

Arnold earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Social Work at Fresno State University. In addition to co-facilitating at ASP, Arnold assists with Project Rebound, a student support services program for formerly incarcerated students at California State University, Fresno. He also interned as a mentor at Fresno’s Juvenile Justice Campus in the Focus Forward program and continues to play an active role there, he now currently interns at West Care’s Health and Wellness Program as he finishes his last semester at Fresno State.

Arnold deeply values the opportunity that IGP provides for humans to grow from seedling to full bloom. Having spent spent the better half of his life in prison, he experienced his own transformation which enabled him to break out of his shell and become a proactive and productive member of society. IGP has allowed Arnold to continue this fruitful journey as he shares his personal life story and the endless possibilities of change with those he now works with inside of prisons.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Michelle Mondia

Program Manager and Facilitator

California Institution for Women (CIW)

With a curious mind and strong connection to nature, Michelle found IGP’s mission to be in alignment with her personal values and joined as a Program Manager in 2021. As a consultant in the public health sector for nearly two decades, Michelle has managed multitude of projects, including evaluating the impact of rehabilitation programs on incarceration. She is dedicated to working with organizations that focus on community building, restorative justice and systems thinking.

Michelle received her Bachelors from University of California, Berkeley and Masters in Public Health from Boston University with a focus on International Health. She also holds a certificate in Alcohol and Drug Studies from UCLA as well as Integrative Thanatology from the New York Open Center. Currently, Michelle also works as a death midwife and helps people reclaim the end of life journey.

Lily Gonzalez

Women’s Reentry Coordinator

Lily was born and raised in the South-Central community of Florence-Firestone. Her research interests include critical archival studies and community archive work, specifically centered around correspondence. Lily is grounded in this work because of her first-hand experiences with the carceral state. Her experiential knowledge revolves around the devastating impacts of criminalization and the carceral system. 

In 2015, Lily returned to California State University Northridge to complete her Bachelors’ degree, during her return, Lily co-established Revolutionary Scholars. This student organization aims to ensure that people do not return to a carceral space or are limited due to their previous involvement with the criminal legal system. Second, Revolutionary Scholars is dedicated to creating a prison to school pipeline that can develop alternatives and crowd out prison to the point of being obsolete.

Lily continues to be active in her community where she enjoys street tacos, and lives with her 7-year-old son Logan and 18-year-old daughter Alyssa Celeste.

Angelica Costilla-Mancha

Women’s Reentry Associate

Angelica came on board with IGP in the Spring of 2019 as an Intern for Reentry Coordination in the Central Valley. The heart of her work revolves around conducting research and outreach to reentry partners while also connecting IGP participants to resources that support their reentry needs. She serves as an IGP volunteer at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.

Angelica is currently finishing up her undergraduate career at the University of California, Merced working towards degrees in English & Sociology. In addition to her work with IGP, she also assists with learning support services for first year, first generation college students at UC Merced. She is grateful to be part of such a transformative program.

Robert Ortiz Archila

Southern California Reentry Coordinator

Robert Ortiz Archila (he, him, El), is originally from Bell, California. Robert served in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  A purple heart was awarded to Robert after he was wounded in combat, and as a result of his injuries he was honorably discharged.  His transition to civilian life proved difficult.  After recovering from alcohol addiction, homelessness and incarceration, Robert set out to pave a new path for himself by entering and successfully completing a recovery program from at the Loma Linda VA Hospital. Soon after, Robert enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College where he earned an Aeronautics degree with honorary distinctions (Summa Cum Laude).  Robert transferred to California State University Fullerton where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies with a minor in ChicanX studies.

His journey continues at Cal State Long Beach, where he is working on his Masters of Science Degree in Counseling with an emphasis in Student Development in Higher Education. Robert serves as the new addition to Project Rebound Cal State LA staff.  His dedication to the reentry community continues as he supports participants leaving CIW/ CSP Lancaster. His values include, equity, diversity, inclusion, social justice and the value of academic grit.  His hobbies include Off-Roading and flying Cessna Airplanes.  Robert currently lives with his wife in SoCal and is eager to begin his Ph.D. program.

Jamala Taylor

Reentry Associate/ Alumnus

Jamala became involved with IGP while incarcerated at CSP-LAC after being transferred from solitary confinement at Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (S.H.U.). Jamala spent 15 years in solitary and 31 years overall in maximum security prisons across the state of California. As a result of changes in the law (AB260 and AB261) commonly referred to as the “youth offender laws” he was released from prison on December 20, 2020. Jamala has recently joined the IGP team officially and has been accepted into CSU-Fullerton’s Sociology program where he plans to earn his bachelors degree. 

Jamala is a revolutionary, working for liberation and just treatment of the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and poor people. Jamala is also committed to developing reentry resources for women While incarcerated he facilitated several classes (CGA, NA, Anger management etc.) He has committed his life to combating exploitation, oppression and making a positive and impactful contribution to the world.


BethWaitkus-200x200Beth Waitkus

Founder

As part of her deep commitment to systems change at the intersection of environmental, social and criminal justice, Beth founded the Insight Garden Program (IGP) in 2002 at San Quentin State Prison to transform prisoners’ lives through connection to nature. Over the past seven years, as the former Executive Director of IGP, Beth oversaw program expansion to ten additional California prisons, a youth facility in Indiana, and an adult male facility in Ohio as well development of reentry bridge program. After almost two decades of seeding and cultivating the growth of Insight Garden Program, Beth stepped aside in August 2020 to make space for new leadership and Insight Garden Program 2.0.

Beth is featured in the book, Eco Amazons: 20 Women Who are Transforming the World by Dorka Keehn. She is also a recipient of the Hotchkiss School Community Service Award, Pepperdine University’s George and Waves of Service Awards, and in 2018, IGP received the (California) Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA). As a member of the American Correctional Association’s Sustainability-Oriented and Environmentally Responsible Practices Committee, in 2019, IGP received the ACA’s Innovations in Corrections Award. Beth and IGP have also been featured in ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, as well as many other media outlets.

Beth holds a M.S. in Organization Development from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and a B.A. in Political Science from Tufts University.