Social Networks of Violence

We interrupt social networks of violence by interrupting at these key moments Prevention – Trauma – Criminalization
Research calls this social network the “victimization network.” In ConTextos, we see this network of violence as a spectrum of experience:


Those who have been shot or directly experienced violence as witness or victim.


Those who might be exposed to violence in their community, but not necessarily directly affected, are key to prevention.


Those who have been arrested, incarcerated, actively within the court system, on probation, parole or electronic monitoring (for violent offenses).

What We Do

From Hurt to Healing

Participants develop self-reflection, social-emotional skills, pro-social behaviors, and accountability.

Complicating the Narrative

True stories that illuminate, elevate voices, create proximity, challenge assumptions, build empathy, stimulate conversation, and change minds and actions of diverse audiences.


Those who are attempting to interrupt the network of violence, as direct actors through reentry, programming, legal economy, or as advocates such as family members, thought leaders, law enforcement, general public.

Where We Work


We work with juveniles and adults who are awaiting trial and accused of, or have been sentenced mostly for violent offenses.


We believe the purpose of schooling is to create well-rounded and positive citizens, not just prepare for college and employment. That’s why our work with schools focuses on working with teachers as key components for lasting change, to create learning environments that promote reflection and dialogue as the foundations for emotional and professional success.


We work in workforce development, reentry, alternative sentencing, and community centers to reach individuals who are currently on probation, house arrest, just leaving jail or prison, or at elevated risk of violence involvement.

Annual Report 2019

Read past Annual Reports here

Research Behind Our Work

ConTextos’ unique approach develops essential social-emotional skills to reduce involvement in violence amongst individuals at the most elevated risk.

Dr. James Garbarino, Professor

Loyola University

Dr. James Garbarino, Loyola Professor of Humanistic Psychology and Advisor to ConTextos focuses on social ecology of child and adolescent development, with emphasis on trauma and violence. An awarded author and expert witness in renegotiating sentences for youth, Dr. Garbarino supports writing about trauma in an interactive, iterative way as more effective than just talking about it, especially “when aiming to rehabilitate and transform the minds and hearts of young people engaged in violence.” ConTextos’ unique approach develops essential social-emotional skills to reduce involvement in violence amongst individuals at the most elevated risk.

Dr. Claire Burke Draucker

Narrative Therapy Expert

Dr. Claire Burke Draucker, an expert in narrative therapy noted programs like ConTextos “open up possibilities for constructing new life narratives…[with] moments of strength, autonomy, and emotional vitality hidden in life stories that are otherwise saturated with suffering and oppression.”

Our Story

Transforming Education

ConTextos launched in 2011 to transform traditional, rote education into dynamic learning environments that promote deep-thinking, engaged dialogue, and expression. Working in El Salvador, “the homicide capital of the world,” students who were exposed to this new model of learning began to share their unique ideas, opinions and experiences, engaging in dialogue and debate. And they demonstrated the natural human instinct to share their real lived experiences, in conversations and writing – stories that navigate the violence and trauma of poverty, migration and gangs.

A Unique Teacher Training Model

In 2011, co-founders Debra Gittler and Zoila Recinos launched the pilot of a teacher-training program at three schools in El Salvador based on two types of talk in the classroom and lifting the level of thinking.

After two years of trial and error, the team saw meaningful changes in schools. Kids were reading books every day. They were asking questions in class, taking books home, parents were getting involved. And notebooks were no longer just for copying off the board… they were deposits for students’ authentic thoughts and ideas.

Transition from Education to Criminal Justice

Authors Circle (Soy Autor in Spanish), an intensive writing and social-emotional learning program, was developed to foster healing and reflection amongst victims, witnesses, and perpetrators of violence and trauma. From schools and communities, ConTextos quickly expanded into juvenile detention and gang and civilian prisons. The published works from these Authors, individuals whose stories and experiences often ignored, are then used to train teachers, law-enforcement, and thought-leaders about the real challenges and sentiments of some of the most vulnerable young people in the Americas.

Growth to Chicago

In 2016, ConTextos was asked by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to bring Authors Circle to Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOD) as part of his vision for criminal justice reform. ConTextos adapted its programs to meet the needs of Chicago’s violence and trauma-exposed youth, and quickly expanded into community-based workforce development, and schools.

Board Members

Debra Gittler

Global President, CEO & Founder, ConTextos

Ricardo Cevallos

Vice President, ConTextos, Attorney, BLP Abogados

Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Ph.D.

Board Secretary, ConTextos, Managing Director, (re)Chicago

Katie Hill

Board Chair, ConTextos, Partner at Salvatore Prescott & Porter

Francesca Jessup

Board Treasurer, ConTextos, Senior Consultant in Governance, Human Rights and Post-Conflict Peace-Building

Anthony Barash

(Retired) Harvard University, American Bar Association

Gabriela Poma

Harvard University

Jose Antonio “Toño” Rodriguez

Vice President, Vassi Design Group

Kristen Rosekrans, Ph.D.

Education Policy, Research, and Elevation Consultant

Jill Gross

Caffe ArrivaDolce, Chicago

Darlene McCambell

University of Chicago Laboratory High School, Teacher

Mark E. Payne

Executive Director, Public Allies Chicago

Sadie Stockdale Jefferson

Executive Director, University of Chicago Education Lab

Larry Ford

Chief Security Officer, John Deere

Caroline Murphy

Mathematics Professor, The SEED School