Unchained Scholars

The UNCHAINED SCHOLARS are a group of formerly incarcerated MSW, DSW, and Ph.D. students working with ally members to dismantle the barriers faced by people impacted by the criminal punishment system. Upholding the values and principles of the profession of social work, the Unchained Scholars challenge beliefs, policies, and systems that marginalize, stigmatize, and dehumanize individuals with criminal records contributing to a cycle of economic and racialized oppression. Through advocacy and diverse community building, the Unchained Scholars live the change they want to see.


FABIOLA QUIJANO is the first American Citizen in her family and first generation to attend college. She grew up in a low-income home in Los Angeles California with a single mom who migrated to the United States from El Salvador. Fabiola’s language is Spanish. She is 41 years old, and has three children ages 26, 22, and 16. Fabiola graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Cal State University Fullerton and majored in Human Service with an emphasis in substance abuse and mental health in 2015.  She is currently in her 2nd year of Master of Social Work program at the University of Southern California. She has an 18-year history of lived experience of substance use, complex traumas and “The Life on the Streets.” Fabiola transformed her life over seven years ago and has made significant positive impacts in her family and the lives of vulnerable populations. She is a Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor (CADC II) and holds a credential under California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professional (CCAPP). She has been in the field of residential drug treatment since 2014. Fabiola is currently doing her internship at a residential drug treatment program called Family Recovery Center, a program within Mental Health Systems, Inc that provides direct services to adult women with substance use disorders/co-occurring disorders. She currently hold a GPA of 3.8. Fabiola is Co-Chair of “Unchained Scholars” which is a Student Interest Group at USC for students that were formerly incarcerated and or those that were affected by it. 


GENEVIEVE RIMER received a bachelor of social work degree from California State University Los Angeles in 2009 and a master of social work degree from California State University San Bernardino in 2013. She is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Social Work program at the University of Southern California. Her focus is creating virtual communities of practice for second chance employers in Los Angeles County.

Ms. Genevieve Rimer began her work in the field of social work as an intern providing case management services to women returning home from prison at a halfway house. Working with individuals post incarceration became her passion and she continued serving these individuals in a variety of capacities including mental health counseling with a specialization in substance abuse education at a women’s inpatient treatment facility and supervisory case management services at a reentry program. She worked as a manager for a state organization where she designed, implemented and managed a social service day reporting center that provides education, support and resources to individuals currently on state supervision. Her expertise in program development and program implementation led her to accept a leadership position at a nationally recognized transitional employment program that provides immediate employment to justice involved individuals. Her role as a consultant includes providing technical assistance, support and training to workforce development professionals that are seeking to further their expertise in providing services to marginalized individuals. She also has provided field instruction to master-level social work and clinical counseling students.


HEIDI DE LEON is a mom of 3, scholar warrior activist and hope dealer. Currently she works at Los Angeles and is for alcohol and drug abuse as a clinician. Prior to this, she worked as an Addiction Treatment Program manager in South Los Angeles years and has held various roles in addiction treatment over the past 10 years. She earned her MSW from the University of Southern California in August of 2018 and her BA in Africana Studies from California State University, Dominguez Hills in May 2016. Heidi is a Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Scholar, member of the NASW-CA Rehabilitation and Inclusion Council and alumna of NASW-USC. Formerly incarcerated and part of the foster system, she focuses on policy and advocacy for reentry and uses storytelling and activism with the hope of dismantling the school to prison pipeline.