Our Mission Statement
Utilizing innovative media tools to enhance rehabilitation, re-entry, and public safety, the Ben Free Project confronts the drivers of mass incarceration, recidivism, and the criminal justice system. Through curated education, training, intervention, and self-help curricula for system-impacted individuals, our mission is to create social change while centering the voices of those most impacted by the carceral state.
Where It All Began
In 2011, while doing time at Ironwood State Prison, Ben was enrolled in Palo Verde College and was having some luck getting his writings published in various outlets. Kasey Stinson, a fellow student, hired Ben to edit and develop some urban novels under Kasey’s independent publishing label, and the two became fast friends. They would often share entrepreneurial dreams. Kasey’s was to open a chain of sober living homes in LA County and expand until he could afford to launch a multimedia center, a plan he implemented before he was even released in 2012. By the time Ben stepped out and breathed free air in 2021, after 18 years in prison, Kasey and his wife Viktoriya had over 20 Victory Starts Now transitional homes, and The World Famous Coin was in full swing filming podcasts, producing music and music videos, and facilitating entertainment events.
Ben appeared as a guest on Kasey’s podcast and, shortly thereafter, was admitted into UCLA. UCLA Magazine promptly published a cover story about his admission. When Ben posted his acceptance news on LinkedIn, the post received over 1,000,000 views, and Kasey told Ben, “I’m so sick of answering emails about your story. I’m just going to give you your own show.”
“What kind of show?”
“It will be a podcast.”
“Cool,” Ben said. “What’s a podcast?”
Since then, the Ben Free Podcast has been exploring ideas of freedom and interviewing many movers and shakers in the restorative justice space. On one episode, he and his guest Caits Meissner, then Director of PEN America’s Prison Writing Program, and author Patrick O’Neil discussed the value of incarcerated scribes receiving mentorship and tips to improve their writing and overall literacy level.
Ben longed to provide similar opportunities on a broader scale to incarcerated writers. He began mentoring two of them, who write under the names Ghostwrite Mike and The Mundo Press, founders of a program called Barz Behind Bars, which focuses on literacy through rap, song, and creative writing. He began promoting them on his show, cheering them on as their pieces made their way into the Prison Journalism Project and Columbia University’s exCHANGE, where Ben’s own writings had appeared. Ghost and Mundo introduced him to Randall Horton—a two-time American Book Award winner, jazz musician, and nonprofit activist. Randall encouraged Ben to follow his Web designer Alex’s advice and form his own nonprofit to offer incarcerated citizens educational and artistic programming to enrich their lives, inspire change, and reduce recidivism by taking aim at its source—the hearts and minds of the system-impacted.