After launching his nonprofit organization, The ODFoundation, in 2019, On Mekahel and his husband started actively making a difference in prison reform. Fast forward two years, in the height of justice reform in the US, the ODFoundation and its founders are pledging to take a new approach – to partner with established business owners and celebrities and donate sale proceeds in hopes of benefiting their cause and making a true difference.

At its core, TheOD Foundation strives to empower the LGBTQIA+ community and reduce recidivism. Through counseling and relationship therapy, TheOD Foundation extends support to those who need a helping hand. On and his husband Dave are extremely passionate about the cause, as Dave himself was incarcerated. He owes his healing and transition from prison life to normalcy to his husband, On, who was truly the backbone of his trauma recovery.

From firsthand experience, On and Dave knew that they had a bigger mission that they were destined to embark on. It was On’s selfless idea to launch a nonprofit that supports inmates in the same way that he was able to support Dave.

The couple and co-founders of TheOD Foundation are excited to take this new step in their foundation and are blessed to have the chance to make a difference in prison reform while raising awareness about the constant struggle that LGBTQIA+ members face every day while behind bars.

We sat down with On and got deeper into the conversation about their goals, the incentives behind the foundation, and more:

What is the story behind TheOD Foundation?

The story behind TheOD Foundation comes from a place of personal experience. We met 28 days after Dave was released from his last prison sentence. As the partner of a formerly incarcerated person, I saw first handedly the discrimination and inequality that incarcerated LGBTQ+ individuals go through, and so I was quickly pulled to learn more about the criminal justice system and, of course, shine light on the topic. For the first 15 months of our relationship, we both endured the strict parole supervision program that Dave had to complete. It was an eye-opening experience for the both of us, and it highlighted an important point to us – people who can rely on a solid foundation, with support are much more likely to find their way out of the cycle that kept them stuck in a revolving door. Through this eye-opening experience, we wanted to create a positive change and create a space where we can provide support to LGBTQ+ members, who have found themselves stuck in a place, who if they had the unconditional support from an organization like ours can definitely change their story for the better.

What are your long-term goals for the nonprofit? 

TheOD Foundation would like to provide a system of unconditional support for LGBTQ+ individuals who find themselves stuck in various stages of the criminal justice system. We provide different services such as counseling and therapy. These services will be at the root of establishing our long-term goals, in an effort to provide immediate assistance. We want to bring as much awareness as we possibly can to the unfair treatment incarcerated LGBTQ+ individuals go through since their experience can be much more traumatic than most incarcerated individuals. Another long-term goal is to prevent individuals from having to go back to jail, this would be executed by connecting members of the community, who are on probation or parole, with various other networks and services that can provide them with resources towards successful completion.

Where do you feel like people are the most uneducated when it comes to this topic?

To be honest, we don’t even think this is a topic that most people even know exists, unless you have a loved one, like in my experience, that went through incarceration as an LGBTQ+ individual. Highlighting the issues, and bringing them to the surface is where we feel we need to start.

Do you feel as if there is a substantial amount of work that needs to be done in order to further educate our society on the injustices that LGBTQ+IA members are faced with while incarcerated? If so, how does TheOD Foundation plan on starting the conversation toward positivity and reeducation? 

Like the beginning of any journey, you can’t think about the whole thing at once, and there is definitely a lot of work that needs to be done. We need to start the conversation by bringing, and building awareness because this is the thing – this is a problem that needs to be fixed. Our most immediate plan of action is to start from the inside, helping those trapped in the system find their way out. We know awareness towards change doesn’t happen overnight, so we want to make sure we start taking action now.

Further than what you two are doing for reform, how do you think society as a whole should approach this conversation? Is this a conversation that needs to be had in the classroom? 

Society should approach this conversation the same way we should all approach every conversation – ready to listen with an open mind and heart. We think that all important causes start in a classroom, as there are so many lessons to draw from it.

What has been the hardest part of starting this foundation? Your greatest obstacle, in other words. 

The hardest part has been the added pressure to get this right, and to see our vision to support incarcerated LGBTQ+ individuals come to light because it is such an important part of our story, and how we have grown together.

What do you hope readers take away from this conversation? What do you hope those who support your foundation take away from it?

We hope it will push readers to want to learn more about the disparities that the LGBTQ+ population faces in prison and to also consider the added struggle members of our community face when they become a part of the criminal justice system.

To stay up to date with all things TheOD Foundation, stay up to date on On’s personal socials and the webpage.

LA Weekly