Dear Free Minds Friends,
Thanks to your support, Books Across the Miles (BAM!), our ‘virtual book club,’ is about to turn one and is still going strong! Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop begins in a small room on the juvenile block of the DC Jail, where 16- and 17-year-old boys meet every Thursday to discuss the books they’re reading and to work on their own writing. Recent book club books include Game Over, 16 on the Block, and Fatherhood. But when they turn 18, they’re transferred to the adult jail or to federal prisons. Since DC does not have its own prison, these young men are often sent across the country to institutions where they are far from their families and friends. At this critical juncture, reading and writing prove to be an invaluable connection to the community. Through Books Across the Miles, each member receives the same book, along with discussion questions, writing prompts, and responses in our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect. This allows us to continue nurturing a love of reading and a sense of togetherness even when we are physically separated.
In our last report, we told you about our BAM! selection Rich Dad Poor Dad. After the success of Rich Dad Poor Dad, we read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Navarro. Enrique’s Journey is the true story of a young boy who makes the treacherous journey from his home in Honduras to the United States. Abandoned by his father, he lived with his mother and his younger sister until she too left him and his sister – she traveled to the U.S. to make a living for her family. After years of heartbreak and separation, 16-year-old Enrique set out to find her.
We chose this book for Books Across the Miles because it tells the harrowing tale of a journey which many of our Free Minds members have made. By reading Enrique’s Journey, we hoped to spark a greater understanding and appreciation for other backgrounds and perspectives, and a greater sense of community. Judging by the responses we’ve received so far, it has been an overwhelming success!
One member, Hernan, wrote in a letter from federal prison, “I lived a story just like Enrique’s Journey when I came to the United States.” He went on to tell of hours spent hiding in a cramped train compartment, and the treacherous dealings with coyotes and traffickers. At one point, he said, the Mexican coyotes took them out of the train where they had been hiding. “They took all of our money and they all had AK-47s.” They raped a young girl in front of her mother and the rest of the travelers. “I was 8 years old,” he wrote, “and I remember how I trembled in fear.”
Yester wrote to us with a similar story, of how he too traveled to the United States to rejoin his mother, and how he walked for days through the Sonora desert without a guide.
“Like Enrique, I am also from Honduras, from a city called Siguatepeque, two hours from Tegucigalpa. When I was 5 years old, my father abandoned my mom, my sister, and I. The money ran out and we were in need, so my mom decided to go the US. It was a very sad life and I really wanted to be with my mom.” When he was 14, he left Honduras to rejoin his mother in the United States. In his own words, “At one point, we all had to get on the luggage compartment of the bus, more than 20 people, for over an hour, while we were at a checkpoint. I felt like I was dying from the heat and the poor ventilation, I couldn’t breathe very well and was in great agony…We got to the Sonora desert, which was the place where we had to walk for two days and two nights, but most of the time we walked at night, along with a Mexican guide, whose job was to cross people over from the Mexican side to the US side. The next day we lost him because he used all the money that the coyote had given him to buy a drug named chrystal and he walked too fast until we lost him. So two days turned into four agonizing hot days where we had to sleep during the day and walk at night. I was traumatized, I couldn’t sleep, I felt scorpions and snakes walking on me, it was a desperate situation. We ran out of water twice; the first time, we found a water tank, like for a farm, where there were dead birds and filth, but we needed water, so we drank it.”
But Enrique’s Journey isn’t only for people who have lived through those situations. Demetrius, an African American Free Minds member who has lived in Washington, D.C. his entire life, aptly proved the power of literature to connect people of different backgrounds, when he wrote this for our newsletter: “I could relate a lot to that book. I mean I didn’t have to jump no trains and stuff but when I was young I was also separated from my mother.” Thanks to Books Across the Miles, Demetrius, Yester, and Hernan were able to relate to another’s story, express that through our newsletter, and feel a common bond.
We have just sent out our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, and are currently preparing for the next book order. Thanks to your continued support, over 125 young men will receive the book Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler by Azie Faison. We are all very excited about this new book, which chronicles one man’s motivations and methods for seeking positive change in his life.
In the meantime, the young men in our book club continue to read and write poetry; you can read some of their poems on the Free Minds Writing Blog. Take a look, find a poem you like, and write a comment for the poet! The writers love hearing feedback from the community. It builds their self-esteem and shows them that their voices are being heard. Every week, we print out and mail the comments to the incarcerated poets. Though it takes only a minute to write a comment, it means so much to the poets when they hear from you.
As always, we are deeply grateful for your generosity and your belief in the power of reading and writing. As we say to our members, keep your mind free!
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