The Focus Forward Model

The Focus Forward Project classes are made up of two volunteer facilitators and 6-15 participants. The 12-week class meets once a week for two hours, and participants are required to complete weekly reading and journal assignments. The first hour of class is spent discussing and analyzing a book. The second hour of the class focuses on a different life skill each week.

Our classroom model is based on using a small group setting to create a community where participants are encouraged to discuss the feelings, emotions, and difficulties they are facing while incarcerated or out on bail awaiting trial or sentencing in a constructive manner. Facilitators encourage and direct discussion based on these expressions and then relate experiences to the specific themes expanded upon within each classroom session. By engaging in honest dialogue and classroom exercises that focus on improving self confidence and self worth, participants are able to better utilize their period of incarceration or pretrial supervision and prepare for reentry. 

The Book

Focus Forward Project participants read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. This memoir recounts the author's journey during the Sierra Leone civil war, his experiences as a child soldier, and his struggles and accomplishments as he navigates his post-war life. 

Participants are required to read several chapters of A Long Way Gone each week, and group leaders guide class discussions on book themes, posing questions that often ask participants to relate the protagonist's experiences to their own. 

By engaging with the text, participants learn to read critically, analyze writing, and improve reading comprehension.

Life Skills

By the end of the course, participants walk away with a completed working resume, interview skills, conflict resolution skills, public speaking skills and both long and short term goals. Participants also learn how to maintain self-confidence and motivation in the face of adversity and struggle, and how to apply all of the life skills they learn to their daily lives. 

Journal Writing

Participants are asked to complete weekly journal writing assignments, on topics ranging from reflections on A Long Way Gone to writing a speech to be delivered to the class or listing short and long term goals. Writing as a form of personal expression can be therapeutic for participants as they  navigate this stressful and uncertain period in their lives. 

Read about how Focus Forward has impacted the lives of our graduates


Frequently Asked Questions

Who can participate in Focus Forward classes?

Focus Forward Project classes are for men and women in the pre-trial or pre-sentencing phase of a criminal case. The classes take place in the federal jails and courthouses. Specifically we hold classes in the MCC-New York and MDC-Brooklyn jails, as well as the U.S. District Courthouses of the Southern District of New York in Manhattan and the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.

I am out on bail, can I participate in the program?

Yes, those who are out on bail can participate in a FFP class by reaching out to us directly or speaking with their Pretrial Officer.

Can I participate if I am incarcerated in a pre-trial jail?

Yes. We currently offer classes in both the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. Admission into the courses in the jails is managed by the Education department of each jail. If someone you know is incarcerated in either facility and would like to participate, contact the Education Department in their facility. If you have trouble or questions doing so, please contact us directly.

Is the program free?

Yes, the program is free to participants. As a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, our work is funded by donors who believe in the work we do.