About Us


Creating connections that heal.

About Heart-to-Heart

Our Mission: Heart-to-Heart brings life-changing education to people affected by incarceration and trauma, helping them to heal, thrive, and become the leaders they are called to be.

Heart-to-Heart offers pathways to healing by helping people reclaim their innate capacity for compassion. Our transformative education in mindfulness and empathetic communication provides a vital toolkit of inner resources that empowers individuals, families, and communities—in particular those affected by incarceration—to break patterns of addiction, alienation, and violence and make choices that lead to thriving futures.

Our work builds on Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and other sources.  Strongly influenced by Gandhi, Dr. Rosenberg’s approach offers a powerful framework for understanding ourselves, empathizing with other people, and communicating in a way that acknowledges and cares about everyone’s needs.

Our trainers lead mindfulness practices and teach Nonviolent Communication, meditation, the healing of trauma, and more. We support learners, both within correctional institutions and in local communities, in developing the skills and awareness needed to thrive. We focus on skills that help all of us live our lives to the fullest:   Mindfulness, Empathy, Decision-Making, and Conflict Resolution​ (MEDC).

“Nonviolent Communication helps learners communicate more effectively, build trust, and engage in satisfying relationships with their communities.”

Dr. Terrie Lewine, Nonviolent Communication Trainer

Why Our Work Matters

  • The U.S. incarcerates a higher percentage of its own population than any other nation on the planet.

  • 1 in every 100 Americans is a prisoner.

  • People of Color are disproportionately incarcerated: among African American men aged 20 to 34, one in 9 is incarcerated.

  • Over 58% of all prisoners are parents with children aged 18 or younger.

The effects of this mass incarceration extend beyond prison walls. Children, spouses, families, and entire neighborhoods are suffering along with those who are living in prison. The roots of mass incarceration are firmly planted in a culture of punishment that pervades our criminal justice system, our educational institutions, our families, and our treatment of one another.

Heart-to-Heart’s powerful alternative is a culture of relationship. We cultivate this in the very places where punishment is prevalent — yes, in America’s jails and prisons — but also in our local communities. We offer training in essential skills that enable people to relate compassionately and effectively to peers, family members, and even those we struggle to love. By forming Heart-to-Heart learning communities on both sides of those prison walls, we help individuals discover new, positive, and successful pathways to healing.


Heart-to-Heart traces its roots to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where two Catholic sisters created Comienzos (“beginnings” in Spanish) in 1988, after several years of researching best practices in educational, therapeutic programs in U.S. jails and prisons. Their program was designed to bring dignity and lasting freedom to incarcerated men and women at Albuquerque Metropolitan Detention Center.

Steve Tumolo joined this effort in 1998, and after 10 years as a teacher and leader, brought the Comienzos model of transformative education home with him to Southern New Jersey. With the help of like-minded people, he founded “Heart-to-Heart: Comienzos East” in 2009. The newly-formed organization began offering classes at Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, and was soon recognized for its significant impact, garnering the attention of NBC News, the Philadelphia Inquirer and commendation by the New Jersey legislature.

Heart-to-Heart now teaches weekly classes at two additional locations (the Camden County Correctional Facility and the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia). Heart-to-Heart also offers transformative education for faith communities, schools, nonprofit and for-profit businesses, and individuals seeking to lead and serve.