Dear Free Minds Friends,
We hope you are doing well! Free Minds is doing better than ever; we are happy to see our movement expand and to watch our reentry members as they reach new milestones in their job searches, education goals, and personal and professional relationships. Know that every little bit of support we receive brings our members the resources they need to succeed against the odds. We cannot thank you enough!
Here are just a few of the projects we’ve been working on this spring:
Free Minds Members Give Back to Youth
As our On the Same Page violence prevention programs continue to grow, we are reaching out to more DC youth than ever before. In a Free Minds first, this spring we expanded our programming to middle school classrooms, bringing messages of hope, change, writing, and education to the next generation at a critical point in their lives. Working as “Poet Ambassadors,” our Free Minds members are returning to some of the same middle schools they themselves attended when they first started getting into trouble. After an On the Same Page event, Stephanie Harris, a middle school teacher in one of the most crime-stricken areas of the city, told us:
“Many of my students come from and deal with some of the most unimaginable situations. I try, but often fail to help them to understand them, or overcome them. When the Free Minds Members came today, the emotion in my students was undeniable. I wish Free Minds had offices in the basements of every single school where kids could go, right before they take that plunge off the edge, to have someone who’s been there to pull them right back.”
Another exciting initiative we’re working on is our new writing program at New Beginnings, DC’s Juvenile Detention Facility. In April, Free Minds took over facilitation of the detention center’s Beat Within writing workshop. At weekly Beat Within sessions, senior Free Minds members help lead the program by sharing their own stories of incarceration and the role that books and writing have played in their choice of a positive future. One senior member, Gary, began going to New Beginnings (then called Oak Hill) when he was 13 years old. At 16, he was charged as an adult. After seven years in adult prison, including two years in complete solitary confinement, Gary returned home this past January. Now 22, Gary says teaching at New Beginnings is one of the best things he does:
“Going there makes me feel like I have value. Prison almost broke me, but reading and writing kept me alive. Now I know why: It’s to help young kids at New Beginnings.”
Community Outreach Programs Gain Momentum
Here at Free Minds, we believe educating community members about the root causes of youth incarceration is crucial to creating a safer, healthier community for everyone. We’ve been reaching out to diverse groups in order to raise awareness, engage in an honest conversation about juvenile justice, and share the voices of our incarcerated members through their inspiring poetry. And of course, community speaking engagements are an amazing opportunity for our Free Minds members to practice their public speaking skills and build connections through their original writing.
On April 2, we hosted a poetry reading and community dialogue with our partners at the PEN/Faulkner foundation. As one audience member wrote in an evaluation:
“Free Minds members have such an amazing story and their motivation is incredible. Your session was so powerful, and I would encourage you to have more sessions as such. I’m so thankful I came to this. I learned so much.”
Voices of the Future: Free Minds is Published in a Book!
Several of the young men in our program were recently published in the anthology Voices of the Future, edited by author and former NBA athlete Etan Thomas. A longtime friend and supporter of the Book Club, Thomas joined us at a May 13 event to celebrate the book’s publication. Free Minds poets who are home from prison stood up in front of a sold-out crowd to read poems and signed autographs for excited audience members. This publication allows the incarcerated poets of Free Minds to be heard by readers across the world, and we are so excited and honored to participate in this project.
None of these amazing ventures would have been possible without the dedicated support of people like you. Every time you contribute, you are giving the formerly incarcerated youth we serve a real second chance and opportunity to succeed. You, too, are being a voice of the future. THANK YOU from all of us for believing in the power of books and writing to transform lives!
Dear Free Minds Friends,
Spring is just around the corner, and we can’t wait for what the season has in store for us! Thanks to your generous support, our Free Minds reentry members reached some incredible milestones this past winter. They developed office and interview skills in our apprenticeship program, gained confidence and public speaking experience at events in schools and the community, and discovered the possibilities of higher education by touring a college campus! Check out some of the highlights below:
Spoken Word with High School Poets
Last month, Free Minds members had the unique opportunity to meet with the slam poetry team at Wilson High School. These amazing teen poets performed for our members and gave practical tips about how to deliver your poem to an audience with confidence and feeling. In exchange, the team learned from our Free Minds poets about how writing encouraged and inspired them while they were incarcerated. One Wilson High School student said of the experience:
“The program has inspired my own writing future and goals because it encourages me to try my best and not slip up and fall into the bad crowd. It also makes me want to help others.”
Another student added:
“[Free Minds members] really made a major turnaround...I’m proud of these young men.”
Our members Terrelle and Delonte were so inspired that they have begun to attend poetry slams and open mic nights around DC! And as an organization Free Minds is starting to expand into more genres of written and verbal communication. We just hosted a concert in partnership with Carpe Diem Community Choir in which our members had the opportunity to show off their musical, hip-hop, and spoken word talents. We are thrilled to be able to expose our members to different forms of creative expression.
This February, we welcomed two new apprentices to our week-long job readiness program—Delonte and Mark. They spent the week updating their resumes, learning about office etiquette, doing mock-interviews, practicing breathing techniques during a stress management session, and creating “vision boards” mapping their hopes and goals for the future. In addition to preparing for their job search, Delonte and Mark also provided program support for our book club at the DC Jail; they gave poetry feedback on our Writing Blog, wrote articles for our newsletter to federal prison, and created writing prompts for the teenagers currently incarcerated at the juvenile block of the DC Jail. The opportunity to give back to the same program that they benefited from as teens empowers our apprentices to continue to impact their community in positive ways.
The apprenticeship culminated with a graduation ceremony honoring the achievements of six Free Minds members who have successfully completed the apprenticeship program. Unlikely Brothers co-author Michael Mattocks spoke about his own inspiring journey from living in homeless shelters and dealing drugs as a teenager to his current life as a dedicated husband and father who works two jobs to support his family. He told the apprenticeship graduates:
“I'm proud of all of you because I see myself in you, and want you to know that you should never give up. I plan to visit Free Minds a lot more often now because I see the love that they’re giving out.”
Free Minds apprenticeship graduate Kwame spoke about how cathartic it was for him to find a positive and safe space to process through challenging situations in his life:
“I have a hard time trusting people and I've never met anyone my age who has accepted me as I am. I want to thank everyone at Free Minds for listening to me and being there for me through everything I’m going through. I never had that before.”
YSC—Helping the Next Generation of Youth
Our “On the Same Page” violence prevention initiative continues to make a difference in the lives of DC youth. This January we had the opportunity to speak with a unit at DC’s Youth Services Center (YSC), a juvenile detention center. Our Free Minds poets had a candid and poignant conversation with one of the YSC units about the path the youth were heading down. Reentry member Trae described how his experience with Free Minds book club at the DC jail gave him the push he needed to change his former habits:
“[At the jail] I started writing every night, reading books. My addiction was the streets…but if you change where you are and who you’re with, you change yourself. If the streets are your addiction, you gotta find yourself something else to do.”
One of the juveniles at YSC responded to a Free Minds poem dedicated to a member’s younger brother by relaying his own family experience:
“My father and my brother were both in federal prison. But I’m trying to stop that cycle. I’m trying to do something different. I’m trying to prove that running the streets don’t run in our family.”
He pointed to our literary journal and said: “This book is changing my life.”
Reading and writing truly do have the power to transform lives. Thanks to you, our members are turning their lives around and working together to build a stronger, safer community. We couldn’t do it without your support!
We can’t believe winter is already upon us! This fall has flown by, and our Reentry members have achieved some fabulous milestones in recent months. This Thanksgiving & holiday season, we are so thankful for the opportunity to work with such resilient and motivated youth and to help them foster new skills, support systems, and leadership. And of course, we are filled with gratitude for supporters like you, who help make our initiatives a reality.
Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to recently:
Marymount University Learning Disabilities Conference
In October, Free Minds members were invited to speak at Marymount University of Virginia, for the annual Learning Disabilities Association of Virginia Conference. Free Minds members met with the Department of Education, including administrators and teachers. They read poetry and spoke about their experiences with the education system. By sharing their stories with educators, the Free Minds writers are working with the Department of Education to promote a future where our schools can better understand and serve young people in need. Our members wrote poems just for that day about what support they could have used when they were in school. Read an excerpt from Michael’s poem “Don’t Restrain Ur Mind!” about learning differently:
Was drifting off in class so I was labeled not brightWas flushed down the school to prison pipelineThat’s just not right
So before I let them place the label on me as being dumbBecause of a misperception of how I look and where I’m fromI tune out the naysayers and march on to the sound of my own D.R.U.M.Don’t Restrain Ur Mind!
Probation Officers Presentation
In a Free Minds first, members gave a presentation to probation officers. They spoke about the impact of Free Minds, books, and writing. They each read one of their poems, and one member shared a letter from a young man who is still incarcerated. The probation officers were incredibly moved by the presentation and especially the success stories. Free Minds member Latrae commented on the experience:
"All of us talking to the probation officers showed them that people who have been incarcerated can change. That they won't always be doing the same things that they did before as they might think. I think they were happy to see that."
Social work student forms Free Minds Reentry partnerships
This fall, Free Minds welcomed Heather Galbreath to the Free Minds Family; Heather is pursuing her Master of Social Work degree at Howard University, and doing a year-long internship with Free Minds to help expand our Reentry Support program. Heather and Keela, our Program Manager, are working hard to find job training and educational placements for our members. Heather performs site visits with reentry service providers and works closely with our members to determine which programs are a good fit for them. Heather first met Free Minds when Tara and reentry members spoke at one of her classes at Howard University; now Heather is helping us spread the word and form more partnerships with like-minded organizations!
“Although I have only been here for a short time, working with the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop has been an eye opening experience for me. When you’re a student you often only learn from what you read in a text book or from what you are told by a teacher, but actually being able to work with the population that you’re learning about affords an entirely different education. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to work with Free Minds...” -Heather
On the Same Page events at schools pick up speed
Our On the Same Page violence prevention program has been gaining more momentum lately thanks to our wonderful partnerships with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and the PEN/Faulkner foundation. The program, which brings Free Minds poets into high schools to talk about their writing and the causes and effects of youth incarceration, is an invaluable experience for students and Free Minds members alike. This fall, Free Minds members spoke with nearly 50 students at Washington Metropolitan High School, an alternative public high school. They shared their personal stories of change and inspired students to change their own lives for the better.
Our poets also visited a constitutional law and youth justice class at Cesar Chavez, a charter school located on Capitol Hill. As future change-makers and advocates for youth justice, the students expressed their deep appreciation for the opportunity to hear first-hand about the youth experience in the adult system. After the event, one of the students said, "I appreciate the determination the Free Minds members have, especially towards the community." Our reentry member Mike, who spoke at Cesar Chavez, told us about why reaching out to high school students is so powerful to him:
“I like doing On the Same Page because I get to show the youngin’s how to express their feelings through poetry and talking rather than putting a hand on someone. I share my personal experiences so they can learn from my mistakes and run with it. One of the big problems today is that there are no role models out here for these youngin’s. I like to help other people, and not enough people do that out here.”-Mike
We’ve seen such a change in Mike since he first started in the book club. Then, he was dealing with his anger over his family members’ addiction problems and losing his siblings to the foster care system. Now, with the tools of reading and writing to help him process his own emotions, he is able to help other kids going through similar experiences. Way to go, Mike!
Your generous support provides the resources to help more young men like Mike to find employment or education, express themselves through writing and public speaking, and turn their lives in a positive direction. THANK YOU from all of us at Free Minds for believing in the transformative power of writing!
Hello Free Minds Friends!
Since our last report, we've been extraordinarily busy here at Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop! Our members continue to amaze us with their creativity, resilience, and motivation to achieve positive goals. As always, we could not do what we do without your support. Here are just a few of the things we've been up to this summer:
Dear Free Minds, The words I am typing cannot relay the emotions I have been experiencing today since your visit to my class. I am taken back by the sharing from Michael, Antwan and Lamarzs. You were so touching .I cannot wait to see my students in class on Wednesday to talk about their thoughts on the morning. Thank you so very much. I will be in touch to work together more to help our young people stay on the right track...
None of these exciting new developments would have been possible without support from dedicated members of the community such as yourselves! We'd like to share a few words from the Free Minds members:
"Free Minds has really changed my life dramatically for the better. I overcame a real life struggle with Free Minds right behind me the whole way through. I was a young man (15) when I first met Free Minds. I didn't know what way my life was headed, facing over 30 years at a young age. I lost my whole family to this thing called life (three brothers killed in the streets) so I really didn't have no hope or motivation for life but Free Minds really showed me I am still here for a reason. They told me we going to overcome this sentence and they did it day by day. When I came home, they employed me. My work in Reentry helps me strengthen myself and strengthen others with the On the Same Page events to let young men who are in the same shoes I was in at that age know that there's more to achieve." – Antwan, age 22 "I’ve decided to change my life. I loved all the books you sent that got me thinking a new way. I did a lot of violent things in the past and I want to start over. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you are here to help me when I’m home. I’ve been locked up for 4 ½ years and so much has changed and I need help. Thank you Free Minds." – Mark, age 21
We are incredibly grateful for and humbled by your generosity and your belief in our work. Thank you for everything that you do!
Dear Free Minds Friends,We have had a busy spring here at Free Minds, and we can’t believe how the time is passing! Recently, formerly incarcerated Free Minds members led their 8th poetry reading as part of our booming Community Outreach initiative, “On the Same Page: Free Minds Poetry in the Community and the Classroom.”Free Minds Reentry members are committed to education, awareness, and to stopping the cycle of youth incarceration. Using poetry as a tool for healing and preventing violence, “On the Same Page” unites diverse audiences in DC and begins a vital dialogue to find community based solutions. Reading works from our literary journal They Call Me 299-359: Writings from Incarcerated Youth of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop Free Minds members lead participants in a discussion on the causes of youth entering the criminal justice system. Recently our Free Minds poets took their powerful message to youth in the juvenile justice system at DC’s Youth Services Center. The ability to share from their past experiences to help others has been life-changing. Free Minds member Dashon describes why he facilitates “On The Same Page” sessions: “It allows me to help youth avoid the same path that I was on when I was their age and gives them a start on a new road. I show them that doing positive is always more fruitful.” Recent “On the Same Page” events have also been held at Bell Multicultural High School, Booker T. Washington Public Charter School, and Georgetown Law Criminal Justice Clinic. But that’s not all we’ve been up to! Some of our other recent activities include:
We are continually awed not only by the achievements of our members but also by the breadth of support in the community. We could not do as much nor reach as many people without your generosity and belief in the transformative power of writing. Thank you so much!
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