Our Team


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Joel Strom

Program Director

A doctoral student at the University of Washington, Joel first came to UBB as an instructor and sponsor. His desire to take on a more permanent role grew out of his experience with UBB and his scholarly interest in the politics and ethics of pedagogy, and the value of a humanities education in combating social norms. It also grew out of his need to be accountable as an educator in a public education system whose reductive understanding of “public” often fails to account for and serve our most vulnerable and disenfranchised. Simply put, Joel believes education is a right, that it can be emancipatory, and that the quality of our commitment to social and educational justice is only evidenced by the lengths we will go to advocate for their advancement. He is dedicated to promoting just and equitable relationships, advancing the prison to school pipeline and building communities of mutually supportive learner-educators that transgress the prison walls.

Margaret burke

Program Manager

Margaret enthusiastically joins the UBB team to collaborate in creating empowering educational environments and supporting learners in determining and achieving their aims. Margaret earned her Master of Science (M.S.) in Ecological Teaching and Learning from Lesley University and is excited to bring her experiences in both higher education and non-profit education settings to UBB. In her recent work at the University of Vermont, she specialized in educational design, assessment, and community-engaged learning. At the core of her work, Margaret strives to create inclusive environments that inspire transformative learning, bring communities together, and value differences.




Crystal song

Operations, Development, & Fundraising Manager

Crystal recently graduated with her Bachelor’s from the University of Washington’s Law, Societies, & Justice (LSJ) program. Through LSJ, she developed a strong interest in analyzing the cycles of violence, poverty, policing and incarceration, which led her to understand prisons as a generator of further, often irreversible inequality. In her final year of undergrad, Crystal took a mixed-enrollment class alongside UBB students where she recognized the power of education to help undo legacies of oppression. In her role with UBB, she hopes to help expand and sustain the work of the organization, build meaningful relationships within and outside of the UBB community, and most importantly, to learn. In her free time, Crystal likes traveling, engaging in the arts (through visiting museums, reading, and writing), and spending time outside.

Kelly Johnson

Community Outreach and Volunteer Engagement Manager

Kelly is a graduate from the University of Puget with a degree in Psychology and a focus in Gender and Queer Studies. Kelly first became involved with prison higher education through the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, developing support for incarcerated students with learning disabilities. They are thrilled to join UBB in order to continue building strong and reliable relationships, as they believe these relationships are key to creating sustainable movements and positive social change. Kelly deeply believes in the liberating power of education and hopes to one day live in a world where education is accessible to all.

Board of Directors

Pamela Schwartz, board chair

Pamela returned to the University of Washington after 35 years, graduating with a B.A. in Law, Societies, and Justice and a double minor in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and Diversity Studies. Pamela serves on the Regional Advisory Board and National Advisory Committee of the Anti-Defamation League. In her professional career she was a manufacturer’s representative for a women’s swimwear company. Pam co-chairs the UBB event committee.

Benjamin gauen, Treasurer

Ben is a King County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in the Special Assault Unit.  Ben was born and raised in Seattle and graduated from Seattle Prep High School.  He obtained his undergraduate degree from Santa Clara University before eventually moving back to Seattle where he obtained his law degree from Seattle University in 2009.  Ben believes our criminal justice system is ready to implement meaningful ways of rehabilitating individuals so that they do not return to prison.

Rachel oppenheim, secretary

Rachel is a Core Faculty Member in the School of Education at Antioch University Seattle. She spent several years as a public school teacher in Compton, California and New Orleans, Louisiana. As a teacher educator Rachel is committed to preparing current and emergent teachers to foster rich, engaging, and responsive educational experiences for all students. For the past decade she has been involved in education in jails and prisons, first in New York City on Rikers Island and now UBB. Rachel co-chairs UBB’s Education Advisory Committee.


Sherri has worked in the telecommunications field for over 30 years. She has a son incarcerated in Washington State and first became involved with UBB in 2009. She was deeply impressed with the UBB program because it instills hope and inspires dreams for those incarcerated. Sherri co-chairs the UBB events committee.

gary idleburg

Gary is co-founder of UBB and has served on the board since its inception. Gary has a B.S. in Geography from the University of Wisconsin and a M.A. in City Planning from Boston University. He works closely with the Snohomish County NAACP and the Black Prisoners Caucus, another organization that works inside Washington State prisons.


Aaron helped found UBB and was a student participant in UBB’s first class. Within two years of his release from prison, he and his wife Mari created American Abatement & Demo (AAB). Today, the majority of their workforce is formerly incarcerated. Mari worked as a bilingual elementary teacher and a culturally responsive teacher trainer for the Kent School District before becoming the CEO of AAB. She has raised children whose parent was incarcerated. Both Aaron and Mari walk in the belief that given the opportunity of an education and support systems, lives can be transformed.


Kayleen has worked in educational institutions in Canada, Japan and the United States for 20+ years and is a firm believer in the transformative qualities of education. As a first-generation college student whose parents were incarcerated in WWII internment camps and denied education afterwards, Kayleen learned early on that education was a pathway to a different life. She went on to earn her M.A. from the SIT Graduate Institute and her Ph.D from the University of Toronto. While working as faculty at Seattle Central College, Kayleen helped develop the Equity and Social Justice emphasis for SCC’s Associate of Arts transfer degree.

ray mcfarland

Ray is a criminal defense lawyer in Seattle. Graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 1981, he served as a deputy prosecuting attorney under Norm Maleng in the Criminal Division of the King County Prosecutor’s Office from 1983-1990. Since then, his private practice has emphasized felonies and misdemeanors in the state and municipal courts of Western Washington. He is a former trustee of the King County Bar Association (1988-2001) who has served on many committees of the KCBA and Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


Adel is a team manager at Amazon AWS where he is an active member of a group of leaders focused on making the company a more inclusive environment and increasing racial and economic diversity within its engineering teams. Adel came to UBB in 2010 as a math instructor and believes that criminal justice reform is one of the most urgent social justice fights of our time and for the past 9 years has advocated at all levels of state governance.

carrie matthews

Carrie is faculty in the Interdisciplinary Writing Program at the University of Washington and taught College Prep English for UBB. A long-time consumer of public education, she received her B.A. from the University of Virginia and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She co-chairs UBB’s Education Advisory Committee.


Mary Helen is a former member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing the 21st district from 2005 to 2015. Prior to working as a legislator, she owned a small business that imported Asian folk art, served eight years on the Edmonds Community College Board of Trustees, and was Executive Director of the Washington State Women’s Council. As a co-founder of the Children’s Campaign Fund and parent of grown twin daughters, Mary Helen has been a long-time advocate for children, particularly those experiencing abuse or neglect, in foster care, or with an incarcerated parent.


Advisory Committees

UBB has established two advisory committees that work closely with the board and staff: the Prisoner Advisory Committee and Education Advisory Committee.


Carol Estes

Carol Estes, UBB Co-Founder and Executive Director from 2005-2013, first visited prison in 2003 to research an article she was writing as managing editor of YES! Magazine.  Through the connections she made during her visit she became inspired to increase the educational opportunities available inside prison walls and UBB was born. Today Carol teaches for UBB and works to help bring back parole to Washington State.

“I know so many men in prison who deserve a second shot, who could move next door to me and that would be fine. Yet we have determined that when people go to prison, they’re never looked at again.…That seems wrong to me.”

Gary Idleburg

Gary Idleburg, UBB Co-Founder and former Board Chair, began volunteering inside prisons with the Black Prisoners Caucus in 2000. It was there that he met Carol Estes and the two co-founded University Beyond Bars in 2005.   He hosts a monthly KSER 90.7FM radio program America’s Disappeared which examines the criminal justice system in America. Degreed in geography and city planning, Gary is an urban planner with Snohomish County.