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artist biographies

Sophie Barajas (she/her)

Sophie is a first semester Senior, graduating December 2021, from the Performing Arts and Social Justice program, with a Music concentration. She also is a Communications minor. Sophie is a singer and a writer of poetry, prose, and song. She has been interested in listening, experiencing, and finding music ever since she was a young girl, and started singing at 4 years old. Moving to San Francisco, she has found her inspiration in growing, expanding, and learning about all types of music as she aspires to work at a record label one day. The collaboration with Michelle and Cynthia has been inspiring in hearing their stories of resilience and fortitude, and has impacted Sophie to continue working with music to create change in the world.

Jennifer Barela (she/her)

My name is Jennifer Barela. I am from Southern California, Los Angeles County. I am forty six years old. I grew up in a chaotic, violent household. I had love but I lacked security. The environment was not healthy. As I grew up, I got involved in drinking and doing drugs. I was very attracted to the gang lifestyle. So I hit the streets running. What this gave me was a sense of security, a sense of acceptance, a sense of unconditional love. These were all false senses, I see that now. I made a lot of choices that led me down the wrong paths. Now today I am more free than I have ever been. I did some digging and found my true self, the core of who I am. I achieved this with a 22 year prison sentence. I am currently incarcerated at CCWF. This sentence saved me from so many things, mainly from myself. 

Latasha Brown (she/her)

I'm Tasha. As a 15 year old 10th grader, I suffered a devastating spontaneous abortion. Though the fruit in my womb was possibly conceived through an act of unconsentual sex, the sudden and unexpected loss of life precipitated my inhumane act against a fellow human being: kidnapping and murder.

I was sentenced to 37 years to life for my crime, which means I could be in prison until I die. My crime against humanity cannot be justified, and the abuse I suffered does not absolve me of my guilt, however, my indeterminate sentence felt like a continuum of the punishment life had already dealt me. At 15 a child cannot sign a legally binding contract,purchase alcohol or cigarettes, vote or get a driver's license, yet a child of 15 can be sentenced to life in prison.

Using my voice to shatter moral numbness, I advocate for adolescent offenders, victims of gender violence, and for equality of all.

Mychal Concepcion (he/him)

My name is Mychal Concepcion. I am a prison abolitionist who truly believes in a safe and compassionate world without prisons. My prayer and intention is that my belief is reflected and received by the viewers of this artistic collaboration. I am extremely grateful to USF for this opportunity, especially to Shikha and Raychel for working with me and Amie Dowling for making this happen. I have been imprisoned for over twenty-five years. This project breached the brick walls and razor topped letual fences of CDCR territories. It gave me a sense of freedom I have yet to obtain and until very recently did not believe was possible. By Creator’s (my higher power) grace, love, mercy, and power, I have multiple paths to freedom. Please send prayers (for those that have a higher power) and love (for those that don’t) for my resentencing and release. Contact me at J-Pay michelle concepcion W75777

Sophia Dargie (she/hers)

Sophia is a third year Performing Arts and Social Justice major with a concentration in Music. She’s trained in classical piano, but currently is focusing on her bass and guitar work. From a young age, Sophia was always moved to do social justice work and that has never faded. Sophia is currently working as a teaching assistant in the rhetoric department at USF, working with students on their advocacy work and podcast production. Being a part of PACE during the pandemic has been an important and challenging experience that she is immensely grateful for. Working with such amazing people and artists, like Julie and Jennifer, is something that will always stay with her. Everyone deserves to be forgiven and we as people on the outside must put in work in our everyday lives to change the prison industrial system.

Heidi Erickson (she/her)

Heidi is a third year Performing Arts and Social Justice major with a concentration in Dance at USF. Heidi has been technically trained in most western styles of dance since she was 12 years old in her hometown of Evergreen, Colorado. She has a passion for social justice issues and community engagement work through creative work. She has been working with Alivia Schaffer and the intergenerational dance company on campus, the Dance Generators, and is currently doing administration work for Krista DeNio at KD>>MovingGround. 

Kat Flipse (she/her)

Kat Flipse is a graduating senior originally from San Antonio, Texas. She grew up dancing, playing music, acting, and painting. She has danced for Dexandro Montalvo, Eli Nelson, Amie Dowling, Kara Davis, & sproutmoves/Genevieve Rochefort. Recent theatrical credits include Into The Woods (Choreographer), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Choreographer, performer), and Heathers: The Musical (Choreographer). In the past year, Kat has taken time to focus on her dance-making and formed hearthdance, a project-based dance collective. The collective creates works sourced in creativity, exploration, and openness.

Raychel Hatch (she/her)

Raychel is a second-year student at USF with a double major in Performing Arts & Social Justice and Psychology. Growing up in Cupertino CA, she pursued dance and theatre training from a young age and fell in love with choreography. In her time with PASJ, she has discovered her passion for expressiveness and community building within her creative work. She has had a rich experience connecting with her collaborators, Mychal and Katherine, and possesses boundless gratitude to have met them.

Julianna King (she/her)

Julianna is a senior Performing Art and Social Justice major with a concentration in Theatre and a minor in music. She has spent most of her time at USF picking up odd jobs wherever she is welcome. She has been involved in on campus productions like Tartuffe (Tartuffe), Heathers (Veronica Sawyer), and Into the Woods (The Witch). She has missed theatre greatly during this lonely time and working with this wonderful team of people has made her feel creatively connected once more.

Mimi Le (she/her)

My name is Mimi Le. I am Vietnamese and White, born and raised in Sacramento, California. I am currently serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole. I am a survivor of childhood and adult trauma. I am the mother of three truly magnificent kids. I am a daughter to a strong resilient mother who survived the death of her only love, my father, 4 years ago. I am the Aunt to a fantastic set of nieces and nephews. I am a friend to all. Most of all I am a woman who survives everyday for my family and my community. I can never give back all that my mistakes have taken from the universe so everyday I am a better person than the day before. My life purpose is to be of service to others and by sharing my story hopefully it prevents someone from making the same mistakes I made. My suffering is nothing in comparison to what my children have had to endure. I hope in the representation of our story, people can walk away with a better understanding of the impact of incarceration from a mother's point of view.

Cynthia Marquez (she/her)

Cynthia here sharing a little of my story, My time on this earth started in 1981, when I was welcomed into this world with love, joy and happiness, unfortunately all that ended when i was 4. My parents divorced and my life was shattered. Yearning for that fatherly love and Motherly affection only left me lost and confused. Labeled weak, followed by thoughts and feelings of not good enough, worthless, rejection and a failure I turned to the streets in search of love and acceptance, but most of all my Identity. I wanted to be part of.... I became a mom at 13 , an alcoholic, addict, I stole, lied and cheated. I caused fear, hurt and pain, digging myself into a dark hole of a life sentence.

Allowing myself to uncover, to discover my true self. Embracing my Higher Power, Books, College,Vocation, Self Help, N.A /A.A, My journey hasn't ended. I'm no longer that lost, confused little girl I found my identity I found ME ! It's my Self worth, courage, dedication, perseverance and resilience, no longer am I detached, disconnected, reckless or hardened, my mission in life is to be the best version of myself , Today I feel free because I love and accept me.

Janett Hernandez (she/her)

Hello everyone!

I am Janette and I am 38 years old and I have been incarcerated 19 years which equals to half of my life. I have 2 adult children and I have been away from them their whole lives. I have had to let go and hand over my children to family members. At night I would lay praying and hoping and not knowing how this LWOP sentence would end. I struggled with anger, resentment, and grief. I isolated and ignored what was going on in my life because it was easier for me to deal with the day to day. I was ashamed to ask for help and did not know how to use my voice.

17 years after my incarceration my LWOP sentence was commuted by the governor and now I have hope where there was no hope.

Today, my focus is to keep growing, keep living a healthy emotional lifestyle, and to be able to obtain my freedom soon, so I can be a productive member of society.

Valerie Nessler (she/her)

Hi Everyone! I want to introduce myself, I’m Valerie. I am 36 years old and have been in my transformation for 10 years now. I have been serving time in Chowchilla since 2011. I have to say I am not defined by my 6 digit CDCR number that I was given. I view my sentence as my complete transformation. I was sentenced to 26-life when I was 26, that was the day I thought my life ended. All of the years I had spent trying to numb and die after my father’s suicide and daughter’s death were overcome by a overwhelming will to live. From that day the fight was on and continues to this very day. I have a new found freedom within my heart because of this life sentence. My freedom comes from this will to live, thrive, and heal; this is how I am transforming. I am no longer bound by my past traumas and the mistakes I’ve made. Each day I wake up with a will to fit and crawl my way out of this place. I knew that I couldn’t and wouldn’t allow myself to give up and lay down and die. I have a story to share about the side effects of living, we as  humans go through pain and trauma. how we deal with these issues are uniquely tailored to us, as for myself, I was on the brink of giving up until my life was taken away, I wake up and haven’t given up. That is the only way I can and will become the best version of me that is possible. My message is the freedom to forgive myself and others has given me the power to thrive within these walls. My heart is free. 

Thank you both Kaitlin and Mia. Reyna, Amie, and Rayvon I also want to thank you. 

Shikha Nischal (she/her)

Shikha is a senior at the University of San Francisco majoring in Psychology and minoring in Public Service & Community Engagement. She will be graduating in May and continuing her current job where she works as a behavior technician with children who have autism. She likes to channel her creativity through baking and photography. While she’s not a traditional artist, she has learned a lot from her peers in PACE and through the collaborative, creative process with Mychal and Katherine.

Kanoa Harris-Pendang (he/him)

My name is Kanoa Harris-Pendang. I am a 47 year old Transmale. I am serving Life without Parole. I have been incarcerated since age 23. I am Hawaiian/Black. I have created a few programs in prison that brought out and inspired all kinds of artwork, poetry, visual art, and spoken word. Peace Day included all races, creeds, and colors. I was also the Chairperson who organized CCWF's Talent Show and Art Show. I love to see the artistic side of people even when they don't see it in themselves. I am currently in a program that will certify me as a drug and alcohol counselor once I get in all my hours and pass the test. I have a passion for mentoring the youth here. I write poetry, short stories, spoken word and am a visual artist. My poem, 'The Barbs,' was inspired by my perceived notion of death by incarceration.The barb wires symbolized my executioner, the torturous view from my window. Each night they sang me a lullaby.

Kaitlin Sanders (she/her)

Kaitlin is a current Senior graduating in May with a BA in Performing Arts and Social Justice:Theater concentration, with a minor in History. Throughout her time at USF, she has been a University Ambassador, a member of the Honors College, and  performed both with the PASJ Department and the College Players. She is very appreciative of the ability to work with two amazing collaborators, Valerie and Latasha, and her partner Mia.

Katherine Schumann (she/her)

Hello everyone,

My name is Katherine Schumann, collaborating with Amie, Raychel, and Shikha gave me perspective holistic knowledge over the powers to be. This experience allowed me to feel and see the misery of affliction that was and still is in our world today. One of the focus points I am interested in is the mental health of everyone’s well-being including my own. This experience allowed me to spot it in my own life. Doing the research and the shared experiences from our team helped me realize I fell into some of the characters of racism, stigmas, and criminalization. I am and have been in prison for the last 20 years enduring prison slavery. I am a certified Drug & Alcohol Counselor with several degrees and I make 85¢ an hour. This project made me a better and wiser person. When it comes to the world’s dysfunction, surrounding political racism, criminalization, modern day slavery and discrimination. This program (PACE) has helped me create and promote mental clarity, exactness of who I am, sharing my cultures history, experiences in full context using emotional intelligence, with everyone that I engage in conversation with. That we are different, but the same. This opportunity was a spiritual renewing for me. It has provided me with purpose and meaning to change the way our world is educated. You all have helped me regain certain aspects of my life, a sense of fullness, power, and sources that have sparked my inner guidance, I am so… inspired by you all I have an uplifting fire within that cannot be put out. I am going to always advocate for black and brown people, mastering the adversities that have been in our world for too long. I leave you with this quote: “Not tomorrow, today! Tomorrow will never come; today will prepare your tomorrows.” I believe we can change learned behaviors one person at a time. 

Thank you, Performing Arts Community Exchange for this wonderful experience.

Julie Spencer (she/her)

I am European-Mediteranean descent mix attempting to finish my 15 years in prison. For the past 15 years, I have enjoyed participating in Activist groups through Art, Poetry, and Essays. I hope to continue this work if granted parole. 

I am an advocate for women, minorities, and those with disabilities. My disability is HFA. I am high functioning because I am able to connect with others through my art and poetry. They tend to ground me and in part, and in part compensate for my social disability, of communicating in social settings. I have been very blessed being a part of PACE even in this very short time, and I hope to participate more in the future.

Seth Timple (he/him)

Seth is a Sophomore Performing Arts and Social Justice Theater major. He’s only recently jumped into the world of performing arts but he has been developing theater, audio production, creative writing, and voice acting skills over his four years within the arts. Recently he’s focused mainly on developing immersive audio art. This collaboration with Leticia (Leti)  has been extremely impactful. Seth is extremely grateful for Leti’s vulnerability and generosity and he hopes to be able to bring Leti’s story out in a manner that respects Leti’s life and those she’s affected.

Evita Walch (they/them)

Evita is a senior at USF studying Performing Arts and Social Justice with a Music Concentration, they also have a minor in Environmental Studies. Evita is a composer and visual artist, they create experimental works focused on queer identity, class, and mental health. The process of learning from and creating with their collaborator, Konoa, at CCWF has been a gift, and they are so appreciative to be able to experience and share Konoa’s work. 

Leticia Zepeda (she/her)

Hello, my name is Leticia Montoya Zepeda. I grew up in the outskirts of Los Angeles but mainly in the juvenile system. My mother suffered from schizophrenia. I am a survivor of domestic violence, rape and addiction. I have been incarcerated for twelve years for the murder of Mr. Abraham Guerrero. My passion to give back, serve, and create healing for his family, myself, and my community are a direct result of his murder. My faith in Jesus Christ has kept me alive and created a new spirit within me. My special verse is in Ezekiel 36:26 that reads… I will take away your stubborn heart and give you a new heart and a desire to be faithful. And that's exactly what He did. Today I desire to be the woman Christ created me to be. My heart's desire is to be the best mother her children can be proud of, the daughter who can make her father smile instead of causing him tears, a sister who is a role model for her siblings, and finally be the friend my dearest friend Cluadia has believed in for so long. Who never gave up on me when she had so many reasons to. I am an intern as a drug and alcohol counselor here at ccwf and I will graduate next year with three AA’s. I am the creator and facilitator of cwwf’s G.A.N.G. group which is geared to reduce prison and community gang activity. I hope to show women the destruction their gang activity does to families and communities. By changing negative perceptions, habits, false belief systems and education we are able to create healing, worth, and value. With a purpose in the world women are able to leave prison and become productive members of society, no longer held in the bondage by their past. 

Saharla Vetsch (she/her)

Saharla Vetsch is an independent dance artist born and raised in Minnesota. She centers her work around questions and curiosities about the world we live in. Her interest involves breaking the hierarchy of language and normalizing movement as a strong and clear mode of communication. Her work explores how to use the body and movement as a means of creative problem solving to tap into a deeper connection to oneself.

Michelle Jones (she/her)

My name is Michelle Jones, I am second generation Japanese American. 43% of my lifetime has been spent behind concrete walls. Something I am not proud of. These concrete walls are visible, but the ones I've lived with since childhood were not realized til I began to look within.

You see my entire childhood and teenage years were spent hiding from you and from self. I despised being Japanese, ashamed of who I was without really knowing anything about what that meant. I lied about my nationality and worked hard to keep that lie.

Have you ever tried to run from yourself? If you have then you know it is impossible, b/c everywhere you go, there you are!

I chose this story as encouragement for you to grow in friendship with one another and embrace gentleness in the discovery of self. As we begin I extend to you cherry blossoms, as a gift of friendship, gesture of good will and the beauty that comes with self acceptance.


Performing Arts & Community Exchange

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