Justice Impacted Women's Alliance

“Lioness: Justice Impacted Women’s Alliance (JIWA) is a nonprofit program sponsored by Build Up, Inc., a 501(c)3 public charity.”


Lioness: Justice Impacted Women’s Alliance is an organization led by currently and formerly incarcerated girls, women, and gender expansive people in Texas with the purpose of ending the incarceration and systematic devaluing of the girls, women and gender expansive people within our criminal legal system.


We envision a society where we are spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically free from all forms of violence and harm in the criminal legal system. Our vision can be achieved through radical advocacy, leadership development, community building, grassroot organizing and civic engagement.


We believe that lived experience is the guiding force to change.

We believe in honoring each other’s differences while striving to bring one unified voice of currently and formerly incarcerated girls, women and gender expansive people in Texas into all spaces.

We believe that jails and prisons by nature perpetuate harm and violence.

Our History

It all began years ago at the Mountain View unit in Gatesville, Texas. When hopes for the future seemed the bleakest, we found a spark of inspiration one afternoon while spending time together at the table in the dayroom. We asked each other, “What if we could get out of this prison and become a force to be reckoned with? What if we could be the voice for the women we leave behind?” It began a fledgling sense of empowerment. What we didn't know was that there were women on other units, who also were having these same longings for collective power.

Fast forward to 2022!
Several of us were finding our voices in the free world, but we felt disconnected in criminal justice advocacy spaces. The sense of community that had helped us survive prison, that we experienced on the rec yards, cellblocks and dorms felt missing. Our unique perspective gave us insights that were often missing from the larger conversations, but we were struggling to be heard. But Melissa Lucio changed everything.

When Melissa was on a countdown to execution we saw what we perceived as a lack of urgency around her case. This was the catalyst. We began to organize and from there something extraordinary happened. We found our collective power. From that moment, Lioness Justice Impacted Women's Alliance was born.

Our history is a testament to our enduring strength and refusal to be defined and limited by others who think they know what's best for us. We figured out how to bring community from behind the walls and continue it beyond them. We have come together from diverse backgrounds, with varied experiences, but united by the common purpose of ending the incarceration and systematic devaluing of the girls, women and gender expansive people within our criminal legal system.

Together, we will continue to write our story, one chapter of empowerment at a time.

About Us image
  • PO Box 12051, Austin, Texas 78711

Contact us to receive the Lioness newsletter and links to join our monthly meetings. (Let us know what city you are in so we can direct you to our regional groups as well)

Jennifer Toon

Project Director

Lori Mellinger

Steering Committee Representative

Marci Marie Simmons

Community Outreach Coordinator

Angel Carroll


Alexa Garza


Amanda Cassidy-Trejo

Strategic Planning

Diane Schwiercz

Correspondence Manager

Chanel Jones

Regional Director-Waco

Arianna Mellinger

Regional Director-East Texas

Jennifer Owens

Regional Director-Dallas/Ft. Worth

Mandi Zapata

Regional Director-Austin

Make a Donation

Make a Donation

Support us in our radical advocacy, education, community engagement, grassroot organizing and civic engagement! Click Learn More to make a donation.

Learn More

Dangerous Temperatures in Texas Prisons

These articles and studies provide valuable insights into the urgent need for climate control in prisons as extreme weather increases in Texas.

Read More  

Inside Members Writing

Our inside Lioness members take a great risk in speaking out against injustice and speaking up for themselves and those around them. Please take time to read a few of their articles.

Read More  

Civic Engagement

We educate members on how to advocate for themselves. Whether it’s voter registration, or navigating local and state government, Lioness members are empowered by learning about and participating in the democratic process. Check out some bills that were impacted by Lioness members testimony!

Read More  

Gender Disparities in Texas Prison Education

This series of articles delves into the stark inequalities within educational programming for women incarcerated in Texas prisons.

Read More  

Community Building

Lioness believes that nothing happens without community. Check out some articles about our efforts to connect to local communities for collective healing and restorative justice.

Read More  

Youth Justice in Texas

Read about the history and the most recent corruption, abuse, and mismanagement within the youth justice system.

Read More  

Life in Texas Prisons for Gender Expansive People

Transgender people and all gender non conforming people in our Texas criminal legal system are constantly attacked and harrassed. These articles give but a small glimpse into the suffering they endure in Texas prisons.

Read More  

Free Melissa Lucio

Learn more about the compelling evidence supporting her innocence and the ongoing efforts to secure her release.

Read More  


How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? Why are they there? How are their experiences different from men’s? Check out the reports to understand the reasons for their incarceration, and the unique challenges they face compared to men.

Learn More


It can be confusing and overwhelming knowing where and how to start advocating for yourself and your community. These are a few resources that we often use that help inform and guide our efforts.

Learn More
  •  10/7/2023 10:30 AM
  •   620 E Main St 3rd floor, Gatesville, TX 76528, USA

Join us for a restorative Peace Walk that aims to bridge the divide between formerly incarcerated individuals and the community where they were once incarcerated. We invite residents, business owners, Faith leaders and other community leaders, to hear and share stories of inspiration and hope beyond the history of incarceration. We are so much more than our past. Come join us!

  •  8/19/2023 08:00 PM
  •   400 South 8th Street, Gatesville, TX, USA

Join us as we honor the lives lost and the continued suffering of the women and men in our Texas prisons during the heat crisis.

  •  7/18/2023 10:00 AM
  •   Capitol District, Austin, TX, USA

Advocates, family members and friends of the men and women incarcerated within Texas Department of Criminal Justice will convene at the Capitol to voice their concerns about the extreme temperatures in the prisons this summer. We are coming together to implore that our elected officials and community stakeholders unite to bring our loved ones relief.

  •  3/8/2023 11:00 AM - 3/8/2023 01:00 PM
  •   1100 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701, USA

This event is hosted by Lioness Justice Impacted Women's Alliance and the Statewide Leadership Council. Join us and State Representatives as we celebrate the success and voice the struggles of currently and formerly incarcerated girls and women in Texas.

T-shirts and Decals

Support a formerly incarcerated entrepreneur with a percentage going to Lioness!

Read More

Coffee Mugs

Order a coffe mug when you make a $30 donation!

Read More