Maria Garza is a restorative justice practitioner, activist, and prison reform advocate, who began fighting for improvements to the criminal legal system during her 12 years of incarceration in state prison. Maria values the humanity in all people and believes involvement in the criminal legal system should not hinder a person from realizing their rights, fully participating in society, and living a life of dignity.
In addition to her work on community violence intervention through Heartland Alliance, she is the cofounder of Challenge II Change, a nonprofit organization that offers comprehensive pre-release and reentry planning and resources needed for successful transitions back into communities. She is the coordinator for People’s Liberty Project, a direct justice impacted-led group of women and men, focused on alternative policy frameworks and creating healing spaces. She is also on the governing board for the Fully Free Campaign, a campaign to end the 1189 permanent punishments in Illinois that restrict the rights of people with records after incarceration. She volunteers for MidAmerica Service Dogs’ Foundation and Paws Giving Independence, which train service dogs to assist people living with disabilities. Maria is a student for Northwestern University Prison Education Program (NPEP) who is working toward her bachelor’s in social science and planning to pursue her master’s in theological studies, with a concentration in ministries of restoration in contexts susceptible to violence.