An NFL Super Bowl-winning performance coach and his wife, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., now devote their time to helping young inmates reach their full potential through a self-help program created by juvenile lifers.
“Phil and Gail gave me a voice that I never thought I had,” said Mike Webb, Kid CAT member. “They don’t judge me for what I have done, and I feel that I could share my deepest and darkest secrets with them because they are unconditional, genuine and sincere.”
“Phil and Gail gave me a voice that I never thought I had”
Kid CAT co-founder Antoine Brown said, “Working with Phil and Gail has changed my life. They’ve helped me become a better father by learning how to communicate with my son in a supportive way that’s not judgmental, harsh or alienating.”
When family and friends ask Phil and Gail Towles why they choose to work with prisoners, Phil replies, “The authenticity of the men here won me over. These guys take more personal accountability for their actions than people on the outside; it’s what makes Kid CAT unique—there is a requirement to take ownership of their lives, not just their crimes.”
“…childhood adversity and stress can chemically change the way our brain works,” said Dr. Robert Anda, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and developer of the Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE survey to The New York Times in “Linking Childhood Trauma to Prison’s Revolving Door” nytimes.com/national
Phil began his work with the members of Kid CAT through a filmmaker who was working on a documentary with the men.
“Brenda Rhodes, who is a friend of mine, was filming a documentary about the founders of Kid CAT and asked if I could come help the men process the emotions that came out during the filming in a cathartic way,” Phil said.
“I was appreciative of being asked, but there was also mixed feelings of curiosity and fear to be around prisoners,” Phil said. “But being a psychotherapist and a performance coach, my goal is to take people where they are and help them optimize their lives.”
The call by Rhodes turned into a life-changing experience for the men of Kid CAT as well as for Phil and his wife, who would join him in becoming a dedicated Kid CAT volunteer.
“There is nothing that has helped me grow as a human being more so than volunteering and being in San Quentin,” Phil said.
Members of Kid CAT describe the group and individual sessions facilitated by the Towles as life-altering, empowering and deeply impactful.
For Kid CAT member Miguel Sifuentes, individual sessions provided the guidance he needed. “They changed my life; they helped me deal with anxiety attacks that I had. With their help, I finally feel that I can live up to my potential.”
In a professional career that spans more than 30 years, Phil worked with teams like the St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and currently the Los Angeles Rams, along with artists like Metallica, Rage Against the Machine and Rascal Flatts.
Phil received a Super Bowl ring when the St. Louis Rams won in 2000.
No strangers to volunteering with the marginalized, after completing college at the University of Chicago in 1964, the Towles worked to advocate for education and civil rights.
“We have a lot of empathy for those in need, because neither of us came from a privileged background,” Gail said. “We had an education, and we felt the need to help.”
“Phil went to work with street gangs in Chicago, and I helped with teenage girls,” Gail said. “We also stood in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. in a walk in Chicago.”
After two years in Chicago, the Towles resettled in Topeka, Kansas, where Phil received a post-graduate fellowship with the Menninger Foundation.
“After the fellowship, Phil worked two years for the Menninger psychiatric hospital before going into private practice for the next 35 years”, Gail said. “Phil decided that he didn’t want to work with people’s nightmares anymore; he decided he wanted to work with people’s dreams.”
To launch his fledgling business of helping others achieve their dreams, Phil made a cold call to the St. Louis Rams.
“Phil’s been a Los Angeles Rams fan his entire life. When the Rams moved to St. Louis, Phil made a cold call to Dick Vermeil, the head coach,” Gail said. “Phil said to Vermeil, ‘I can come and help your team,’ Dick then asked him to come to St. Louis, and we were with the St. Louis Rams after that for three years. When they won the Super Bowl, they gave Phil a ring.”
The work with the St. Louis Rams led to other high-profile clients. “While we were working with the Rams, we became friends with Tom Morrello from Rage Against the Machine,” Gail said. “After we won the Super Bowl, Tom called Phil to come work with them in L.A.”
“While Phil was in L.A. working with Rage, he was introduced to the manager of Metallica, who asked Phil if he would come to San Francisco to help them because they were falling apart.”