Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison

 
$8,130
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Jan 9, 2013

"My All-Time Favorite Book"

FM members send out our monthly newsletter
FM members send out our monthly newsletter

Dear Free Minds Friends,

Happy New Year! We are looking forward to continuing our mission of educating and inspiring incarcerated youth in 2013, and we couldn’t do it without your support!

As many of you know, our members begin their involvement with Free Minds through our weekly Book Club sessions at the DC jail, where teenage inmates learn to appreciate literature and to use writing as a means to express their own stories. But the Free Minds journey does not end there! When they turn 18, our members are often sent off to federal prisons across the country to serve the remainder of their sentences. Far from their homes and families, members can feel isolated and alone in their struggles. Free Minds helps ease the distance and foster a true sense of community by sticking with our members every step of the way—we send books, a monthly newsletter, birthday cards, poetry feedback, and more.

Through our “virtual” book club program, Books Across the Miles (BAM!), incarcerated members get the opportunity to continue their emotional and intellectual growth. This winter, members read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley. Free Minds member Trevon wrote to share the impact the book had on him:

“Thank you x 3 for the amazing books you all sent. ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ just might be my all-time favorite book now. His overall struggle through life at a time when things were much worse than now should be proof to any young or old black male and female that all things are possible if you put your mind to it, despite your economic background or mistakes made in your life...”

Our next BAM! pick is The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place by New York Times bestselling author Hill Harper. The book challenges readers to reconsider how we define wealth in our lives and to place more value on relationships.

Many BAM! participants have been so inspired by the books they read that they have begun writing their own! Our monthly Write Night, where community members gather to provide feedback on poetry by incarcerated members, continues to thrive. This past fall we had record-high Write Night attendance, with over 40 people showing up at events. We also continue to publish member poetry on our Writing Blog. We print and mail all comments to the poets in federal prison. Your feedback lets our writers know they their voices are being heard and that their stories matter.

Free Minds member Decario recently described the powerful experience of receiving mail in prison:

“Wow, I’m honestly just overwhelmed and afraid that my words aren’t going to do my feelings justice.  Y’all were there when nobody else was.  You kept writing to me when literally everyone else had forgotten me.  I mean everyone!  Just hearing your name called by the CO [Corrections Officer] during mail call when nobody else had bothered.  You feel so alone in that situation, and then to hear your name called by that CO?  Well, that’s an awesome feeling!  You feel alive again.  It means so much.”

Another member, Curtis, wrote to us about the comments he received on his writing:

“I want to thank you for sending me the feedback on my poetry. It caught me at the right time. It turned my whole day around. About those responses to my writing, it touched me that people felt the way they did about something I wrote.”

Meanwhile, the Book Club was visited by two accomplished authors this fall. Walter Dean Myers, author of young adult bestsellers such as Fallen Angels and Monster, demonstrated to Book Club members at the DC Jail that writing and creativity can be a gateway to success. We were also visited by Erin Gruwell, the teacher who inspired the movie Freedom Writers. Gruwell shared her inspirational story with the Book Club and challenged our members to think critically about their choices and values. She later expressed to us why she believes reaching out to incarcerated youth is so important:

“As an English teacher, I believe in allowing everyone the opportunity to share their story and possibly rewrite their own ending. So I think Free Minds is just that opportunity for young people who may have made some bad decisions. They’re not bad people. And we want to honor their story, we want to celebrate their voices, and watch them as they rewrite their ending.”

Books Across the Miles provides our incarcerated members with an invaluable connection to the community. Thank you for believing in the power of words, and for helping our members as they write new chapters in their lives!

P.S. To stay current with Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, don’t forget to like us on facebook!

Our newsletter ready to be sent out to FM members
Our newsletter ready to be sent out to FM members
Walter Dean Myers with the founders of Free Minds
Walter Dean Myers with the founders of Free Minds
Freedom Writers author Erin Gruwell visits DC Jail
Freedom Writers author Erin Gruwell visits DC Jail
A Write Night volunteer comments on a poem
A Write Night volunteer comments on a poem
Our latest BAM! book was a hit in the Book Club
Our latest BAM! book was a hit in the Book Club

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Project Leader

Tara Libert

Washington, District of Columbia United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison