You Should Hear Us: Sharing Stories From Behind Bars with Kathie Klarreich

There’s magic in being in the right place at the right time. In this episode of Lift U Up: Inspiring Health Stories we are talking about just that. Though our guest’s career journey was not a lateral one (but who’s is?), she gives credit to being in the right place and following her passion. Kathie Klarreich tells us her story of going from botany to global journalism, to founding Exchange for Change – which teaches individuals in prison how to share their stories. Something we couldn’t love more! Listen in to find just how she navigated these accomplishments and the vast impact she has made.

The First Major Pivot

The story of Exchange for Change starts with Kathie’s own background. With a degree in Botany and years in the field, Kathie made her first of many life changes when she moved to California with an idea for social justice work. Once there, she opened a nonprofit handicraft shop, using fair trade to bring handicrafts from around the world to the US. One of her trips for sourcing handicrafts brought her to Haiti, and what was planned as a 3-month trip ended differently than she expected.

Within the first week of arriving, Kathie found herself in the middle of the collapse of the Haitian government. She didn’t speak their language, but her curious mind led her to staying to learn more. Thanks to a contact in the journalism industry, Kathie made the instinctual decision to stay and report on the current events – a stay that lasted a decade. Kathie reported through print, video, and television, learning everything as she went.

Getting an Inside Look

Kathie’s life in Haiti came to an end in 1998 when, on a job for Dateline, she was faced with a situation that could have taken her life. She took that experience (along with others) as a sign for her to leave. She moved with her family to Miami, the closest port. She didn’t stay away from Haiti for good, but slowly stepped back from the life she had thrown herself into.

During her time back in the states, Kathie found ways to use her writing for good. After attending a performance at a local women’s prison, Kathie was invited to teach a writing class for the women prisoners. There wasn’t a ton of interest, but it was enough to get Kathie’s wheels turning on the need for resources that gave these women a voice.

Making Room for Change

Sometime after that initial writing class Kathie was approached by a professor at FIU who asked for her help in setting up a student to prisoner writing exchange. Immediately, Kathie saw the benefit. The program brought communication skills inside the prison, it allowed the FIU students to experience a perspective different from their own, and most importantly let the incarcerated community tell their own stories. When the semester and the program ended, Kathie wanted to keep this initiative going. Exchange for Change was born, offering courses in prisons and letter exchanges year-round. For over a decade, Exchange for Change has believed that education is a human right and that everyone deserves a voice – regardless of their past mistakes.  

From giving a voice to a nation in hardship, to shining a light on a community struggling with stigma, Kathie’s impact continues to expand.

What else can you expect in this episode?

  • The experiences that told Kathie it was finally time for a new chapter out of Haiti.
  • What brought Kathie back to Haiti after so much time away.
  • The two lessons Kathie learned about injustices in our world, and why basic human rights is an issue we all need to care about.
  • What prison life was like during the pandemic.
  • The background of their book “Hear Us” and the array of stories they’ve shared.
  • How we all can “be in the right place at the right time” if we all just listened to our gut.

Where to find Exchange for Change: