Board of Directors

Nicole Porter
Co-chair and Personnel chair

Director of Advocacy for the Sentencing Project in Washington, DC, Nicole is the former director of the ACLU's Prison & Jail Accountability Project (PJAP). PJAP's mission was to monitor the conditions of confinement in Texas jails and prisons.

Jacob Flowers

Jacob is a native of Shelby County, Tennessee, and the Executive Director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center in Memphis. Jacob worked with Grassroots Leadership in the campaign against privatization and expansion of the Shelby County Jail and Penal Farm.

Michael Espinoza
Program Committee chair

Michael currently serves as a political and community organizing consultant & trainer for progressive candidates, nonprofits, community organizations, and campaigns seeking social justice, especially for communities of color in the Greater Houston Area.  Born and raised in Houston's East End, Michael began his professional career as a high school teacher at the Raul Yzaguirre School for Success.  He then helped establish Houston United, a grassroots, immigrants' rights activist coalition which has led numerous efforts to advocate for the rights of immigrants locally and nationally.  He previously served as Political Director at SEIU Local 1- Houston Justice for Janitors Campaign and as the Texas State Director at Mi Familia Vota, an organization committed to increasing the number of Latinos who participate in the political process.  He also worked as a Community Organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in Houston.  Michael currently resides in Southwest Houston with his wife, Maria, and their two children, Alex and Cathy.

Silvia Mintz
Governance Committee chair

Silvia Mintz currently practices immigration and family law in Houston, Texas.  Born in Guatemala, Silvia immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 at the age of 24.  After first working as maid, janitor, and nanny, she received degrees from Houston Community College, the University of Saint Thomas, and the South Texas College of Law.  Mintz has served on many boards, volunteered with community organizations, and run for elected office in Texas. 

Gislaine Williams
Finance Committee chair

Gislaine leads the administrative support team for the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. She previously worked as a program manager for a non-profit organization serving international refugees in Houston, TX. Before that, she served as a state-wide field organizer for the ACLU of Texas criminal justice and youth rights campaigns.She became involved in the issue of for-profit detention as a student organizer at Rice University and the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. A native of Honduras, Gislaine grew up in Houston and has participated in a number of grassroots campaigns related to immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, and death penalty abolition.

Arjun Sethi
Development Committee chair

Arjun Sethi is an attorney in Washington, D.C., and a frequent commentator on civil rights and social justice related issues. He has previously represented victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers, national security detainees, and criminal defendants on death row.

His commentary has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Christian Science Monitor, and other news outlets. Arjun is a graduate of NYU Law School and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Gabriela Benitez

Gaby was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and immigrated with her family to Memphis at age 6. Living most of her life as an undocumented student and with her family currently facing the deportation of her father, Gaby has a strong commitment to immigrant community organizing. Gaby was a co-founder for Youth for Youth, an undocumented immigrant youth group in the Memphis area, and served the West Tennessee Organizer for the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).  She currently serves as the Domestic Worker Program Coordinator for Latino Union of Chicago and is a member of Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) a project of Undocumented Illinois that works on stopping deportations of individuals in the state.  She is a graduate of the University of Memphis. 

Laura Markle Downton

Laura Markle Downton has served as National Coordinator for Restorative Justice for the United Methodist Church, working to strengthen and mobilize networks among communities of faith engaged in the struggle to end mass incarceration, support private prison divestment campaigns, and promote restorative prevention and alternatives to incarceration.  Laura completed her M.Div. studies at Princeton Theological Seminary specializing in women’s studies. Prior to theological study, she worked in the areas of employment and housing justice and legal services with grassroots organizations in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.

Christopher Petrella

Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley currently writing a book-length manuscript entitled Courts, Contracts, and Corporate Corrections: The Paradox of the Private Prison State. He's also co-directing a national campaign aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to the for-profit, private corrections industry.  Christopher has collaborated with organizations including the ACLU's National Prison Project, Harvard Law School's Institute for Race & Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Prison Legal News.  His work has appeared in Forbes, Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, NBC, and a variety of other publications. He holds degrees from Bates College and Harvard University.

Silky Shah

Silky is the co-director of the Detention Watch Network.  She grew up in Houston and became active as a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. After college she worked with Grassroots Leadership as a student/youth organizer, educating students nationally about university connections to the private prison industry. She later spent six months in Gujarat, India volunteering with organizations focused on women's rights, communalism and displacement. Before joining DWN, Silky worked as an Outreach Organizer at the independent news hour, Democracy Now!

Gail Tyree

Gail is an organizer with Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR). She is a veteran faith, labor, political and community organizer. She previously served as Executive Director of the historic AFSCME Local 1733.  She was a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow with Grassroots Leadership, and worked with and served on the boards of numerous local, regional, and national faith, labor, and criminal justice reform organizations. Tyree helped found the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network and is an active member of Liberation Community Church in Memphis, TN.