Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth

 
$16,854
$3,147
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Jun 7, 2012

Free Minds in the Community: Summer Reentry Update

FM members at On the Same Page event
FM members at On the Same Page event

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:

  • Free Minds member Michael was part of a group that met with Attorney General Eric Holder to promote PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act). Michael’s group was successful; immediately following the meeting, the Department of Justice issued regulations that take important steps toward protecting vulnerable children in adult jails and prisons from sexual abuse.

 

  • Reentry members joined writer Gabe Feldman at the Free Minds office for a writing workshop. Free Minds members, whose writing has improved significantly during their time in the program, are eager to continue writing and growing once they are released. This workshop provided them with the tools to continue writing as they transition to life in the community. The writing workshop also helps members become more effective facilitators for our “On the Same Page” events.

 

  • We have continued our monthly Write Nights with great success. Reentry members join volunteers from around the community to read poems and give feedback and encouragement to members still incarcerated. This past Write Night included a guest who had traveled a bit farther than usual to attend our community event. Terry, visiting from Guatemala, was touched to hear about H.M., who made the perilous journey to the U.S. from Central America when he was only 8 years old. She wrote back to H.M. in Spanish encouraging him to continue writing and not to give up hope. Terry´s experience this past Write Night epitomizes the connection we try to foster between the Free Minds members and the supportive community outside.


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!

FM members at Georgetown Law Center
FM members at Georgetown Law Center
Write Night volunteers
Write Night volunteers
Sergio picking up books to read
Sergio picking up books to read
Rapheal learning office skill
Rapheal learning office skill
Reentry Support writing workshop
Reentry Support writing workshop

Links:

Mar 12, 2012

Free Minds Spring Reentry Update!

FM Member Mike Works on his "Vision Board"
FM Member Mike Works on his "Vision Board"

Dear Free Minds Friends,

                We can’t believe it’s already turning into spring! Free Minds has had an active few months in the Reentry phase of our program. We couldn’t do it without your support, and we’re excited to share a few achievements with you here:  

  • Since our last report, Free Minds has led several sessions of Reentry Apprenticeships, where members returning home from prison work in our office, simultaneously giving back to the community and gaining valuable job skills. Free Minds members consider it such an important opportunity that we now get letters from members still incarcerated who are planning ahead and writing to request a spot in a the next cohort of apprentices! Next week we begin another set of apprenticeships, where, among other work, they will help us with planning the book club sessions they once participated in as 16 and17 year olds.
  • Following the fall release of “They Call Me 299-359,” Free Minds’ Literary Journal, we have been using the book as a tool to reach diverse audiences across the city and even globally! Free Minds Reentry members have led readings and discussions aimed at understanding the root causes of youth violence and incarceration with international Congressional Fellows, adult GED students, teachers at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, to name a few. One Reentry member called the book “"a very good way to bridge the gap between worlds,” and these sessions have truly demonstrated the power of poetry to both connect and educate.
  • Another initiative begun in 2011, Free Minds’ “Volunteer Write Night,” has continued to blossom. If you’re in the area, consider joining us for this monthly volunteer opportunity- email mail@freemindsbookclub.org for more information! Free Minds Reentry members gather with volunteers from across the area to write feedback on the poems of members still incarcerated, allowing Reentry members to give back and encourage fellow writers. One recent recipient of feedback wrote enthusiastically: "I would like to thank all the people that showed love to my poems. I didn't know that they were that appreciated. Thanks for the motivation I'll keep 'em coming just for y'all no question!"
  • Free Minds Reentry members have also been practicing increased civic engagement, attending several DC City Council hearings and writing testimony on their personal experiences of job-seeking after incarceration.
  • Free Minds Member and Reentry Coach Michael has continued his activism on reentry issues. He continues to coach other Free Minds members returning home, while also discussing his own life story at a variety of public speaking engagements to educate about the repercussions of charging youth as adults. He recently attended SOUL’s National Youth Organizer Training in Oakland, CA, and just had a piece published in the Washington Post!

Your support not only helps us to provide opportunities for members returning home from prison, it sends a powerful message of your belief in their abilities to choose positive new life paths. We are so grateful!

You can stay up to date by liking us on facebook, visiting our website, and reading new poems every week on our writing blog.

FM Apprentices Show Off Graduation Certificates
FM Apprentices Show Off Graduation Certificates
FM Member Dashon Writes Testimony for City Council
FM Member Dashon Writes Testimony for City Council
FM Member Demetrius Interviewed by Local News
FM Member Demetrius Interviewed by Local News
Free Minds Volunteers Give Feedback at Write Night
Free Minds Volunteers Give Feedback at Write Night
FM Reentry Coach Michael Accepts Activist Award
FM Reentry Coach Michael Accepts Activist Award

Links:

Dec 1, 2011

Reentry Program Activities this Fall

Free Minds members speak at On The Same Page at AU
Free Minds members speak at On The Same Page at AU

Dear Friends,

            Free Minds has been staying busy this fall, with new initiatives both inside the jail and out. We want to share with you a few highlights from our Reentry Support phase, which has been supported by this project.

  • This fall, we were proud to release a new literary journal, “They Call Me 299-359: Writings from the Incarcerated Youth of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop.” To celebrate we had a “Happy Hour for Word Power,” which was packed with Free Minds fans! Free Minds members read excerpts from the new book and spoke with audience members about their experiences coming home and working to create positive futures for themselves and their community.
  • Members, staff, and supporters gathered for a “Write Night” at the Free Minds office, writing feedback on the poetry of members still incarcerated. This regular volunteer event provides a unique way for volunteers to encourage the writing and reflection of young authors, and for Free Minds members who are home to experience a community of support.
  • In collaboration with Benevolent Media Festival and American University’s Center for Social Media, Free Minds sponsored a showing of “The Interrupters,” a powerful film about violence intervention. After the film Free Minds members spoke on a panel about how these issues related locally, sharing stories from their own experiences.
  • Through a collaboration with Redskins replay, Free Minds members attended a football game at Fedex Field between Maryland and Notre Dame- and loved it!
  • The poignant and powerful documentary “Young Kids, Hard Time,” offering a rare glimpse inside the unit of a prison for youth charged as adults, was premiered at the National Press Club- and Free Minds was in the audience! It then debuted on MSNBC November 20th. Free Minds members enjoyed the film and especially the honor of being the first to see it.
  • As part of a collaboration with American University’s “DC as a Third World City” class, Free Minds members led a poetry reading and discussion on the root causes of youth violence. Students left moved by the event, especially by the personal stories of Free Minds members shared through their poetry.
  • Free Minds member and reentry coach Michael will be receiving an activist award next week from the Washington Peace Center, honoring his work supporting others coming home from prison. Michael’s favorite saying is “a good example is better than good advice,” and we are so proud to see him living his motto! Michael also spoke two weeks ago at a DC Council hearing on reentry issues, educating others about the challenges of reentry.
  • Last, but definitely not least, Free Minds Reentry Support members have been working in the office doing “apprenticeships,” our employment training model. In these apprenticeships, they provide program support for the very program they participated in! Through planning book club sessions for the jail, sending our newsletter to prison, and other tasks, they can give back to younger members while solidifying a new life path form themselves.  

            We are so grateful for your commitment and support that sustains us and makes these programs possible. Consider making a donation to Free Minds as a gift for someone this holiday season. The majority of members in our program had never read a book cover to cover before meeting Free Minds- sharing the gift of reading is a wonderful way to honor a loved one!

            Be sure to like us on facebook and for more information, you can always go to our website.

FM member showing off our new literary journal
FM member showing off our new literary journal
FM member speaking at the Interrupters screening
FM member speaking at the Interrupters screening
FM volunteer at our most recent Write Night
FM volunteer at our most recent Write Night
FM members at premiere of "Young Kids, Hard Time"
FM members at premiere of "Young Kids, Hard Time"
Aug 5, 2011

Many New Projects! Summer 2011

Brian (center) with Reentry Support members
Brian (center) with Reentry Support members

Free Minds Reentry Support Summer Update!

It’s been a hot summer in DC, but Free Minds has been up to good things, and it's all thanks to YOU! Our friends and supporters have truly allowed us to share incredible experiences with our members, from the new Harry Potter movie to a meditation event aimed at relieving stress.

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be featured as a grantee in a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities video! Two of our members appear in the video, and they also had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the process of shooting a film. You can see the short video here!

Two reentry support members have recently completed the one week paid internship program, an important step in equipping youth with job readiness skills. As part of the internship Brian McEwen, a Free Minds mentor, came to give a presentation- you can read about Brian’s wisdom on our homepage www.freemindsbookclub.org (scroll down),  and see a supporter profile of him here.

We’ve aso been lucky enough to have a reentry support member interning in our office through DC’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Among other activities, he has been helping us design curriculum and games for book club, typing up the poetry of youth currently in DC jail, and researching new venues for Free Minds to present writing.

Free Minds has been attending events outside of the office, as well. Several members and staff attended the eagerly anticipated final Harry Potter movie, and even brought their own wands! More recently Free Minds went a different kind of book event: an evening of chant and meditation, in conjunction with Sharon Salzberg's new book "Real Hapiness". Free Minds uses a basic meditation technique as a way of centering at the start of Book Club at DC Jail, and thought that these techniques might be useful for members working to adjust to lives home in the community. After the event, Free Minds member Eric affirmed that “I learned a lot about meditation and chanting,” and was so impressed he recommended that chanting be offered as a routine part of Book Club. He also said he hoped to continue to practice it in his own life. “It's going to be good for me. The chanting made me feel really relaxed.”

 We also recently hosted a reentry workshop at Sankofa Bookstore Cafe where members came to sit down, listen to music, talk with friends, and write poetry for our new Literary Journal, which will be published later this year.

Finally, we are developing a new project for support on GlobalGiving- we’re inspired by this initiative, and we hope you will be too.  Keep a look out in the coming weeks for the Books Across the Miles project (we like to call it BAM!).

Thank you so much for all of your support. We’re so excited about our recent events and initiatives, and for you all to be a part of them!

With gratitude and appreciation,

The Free Minds Team

Tara and Wilbert showing their love of books!
Tara and Wilbert showing their love of books!

Links:

Jul 26, 2011

Free Minds Reentry Support Continues! Spring 2011

Free Minds Reentry Support Spring Update!

First, a giant thank-you is due to all those who participated in the one day matching funds challenge, as well our continued donors- we are honored and humbled by your support, and we truly couldn’t do it without you.

Free Minds has had a busy few months with events in our reentry support program- Book Club members home in the community have read their poems for a conference of school principals from across the country for the Department of Education, participated at open mics across the city, completed internships in our office, dialoged with students in the public policy program at Cesar Chavez Charter School, and more.

Our latest reentry event was a joint workshop with Free Minds members and their Probation Officers. This was, as you can imagine, an unusual proposition, but by the close of the evening everyone was energized by the results.   

Will, our Reentry Coach, led an exercise in which the Free Minds members pretended they were Probation Officers, and the PO’s pretended that they were recently home on probation and struggling to find employment. There was a lot of laughter, and surprising results. We concluded by all writing poetry together, and the Free Minds members were especially moved by the poem of one of the officers:

 

I Used to Work at the Jail

by a Community Supervision Officer

 

When you say I want to see you locked up,

what I want to say is that I used to work there

and I would never want to see you go back there.

 

When you say I want to see you locked up,

what I want to say is that your family deserves for you to be in the community,

but I can’t make those decisions for you.

 

When you say I want to see you locked up,

what I want to say is that your past does not have to dictate your future,

but you have to learn the lesson for yourself.

 

When you say I want to see you locked up,

what I want to say is that I used to work at the jail

and that experience is why I’m your Community Supervision Officer today,

to see the change beyond the jail.

 

Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience for everyone! Probation Officers and recently returned citizens can often find themselves in an antagonistic relationship, but these creative writing exercises helped them to understand each other and build a collaborative partnership. Your support helps us provide the basics like metro cards for youth who are home in the community to travel to and from these workshops. Each workshop helps to foster self-awareness within our members, root them further in the larger community, and to build a network of positive peer support that is so integral to preventing recidivism. We will be posting more updates with photos soon, so stay tuned!

 

With deep gratitude,

 

The Free Minds Team

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

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Project Leader

Tara Libert

Washington, DC United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth