Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth

 
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Member Eddie on the 1st day of his apprenticeship
Member Eddie on the 1st day of his apprenticeship

Dear Free Minds Friends,

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 bright
Was flushed down the school to prison pipeline
That’s just not right

So before I let them place the label on me as being dumb
Because of a misperception of how I look and where I’m from
I 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!

FM member Dashon shares a poem with students
FM member Dashon shares a poem with students
Member Kwame works on his resume in the office
Member Kwame works on his resume in the office
Mike on stage rehearsing a poem
Mike on stage rehearsing a poem
Our new intern Heather with program manager Keela
Our new intern Heather with program manager Keela

Links:

Bobby ready to set sail on graduation day
Bobby ready to set sail on graduation day

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:

 

  • Free Minds’ violence prevention initiative, On the Same Page, continues to thrive.  Since June, we have presented at DC’s juvenile justice detention center, a summer youth activism program, a homeless shelter, and the grand opening of a new DC Public Library.  On the Same Page brings together Free Minds poets with the DC community to begin a dialogue on solutions to stop the violence plaguing our streets. We use poems from our literary journal They Call Me 299-359 and first person narratives of childhood experiences and time spent incarcerated in federal prison to promote understanding, empathy and healing.  In the words of Ms. Keela, our new Program Manager, "The power of poetry bridges a gap between the Free Minds members and the youth that we are engaging. The youth feel a common bond between themselves and the poets, and a connection is made. The youth begin to open up and express themselves candidly because they see themselves and some of their life experiences in the poems. They come away with a sense that they themselves can use poetry as a way to creatively express their thoughts and feelings."  The audience walks away with the knowledge and understanding that creative expression can be an alternative to violence.  With all of us on the same page, we can create a stronger, healthier community!  Read more about On the Same Page here.
  • In July, Free Minds welcomed Reentry members LaTrae and Dashon as  summer Apprentices.  During their week-long Apprenticeship, Latrae and Dashon worked in the Free Minds office providing much-needed program support and developing their own office skills.  They practiced writing, computer skills, job interviews, networking, and office etiquette.  They also provided support to Free Minds members still incarcerated and helped at the Volunteer Write Night, where they presented their work to a diverse group of DC residents. 
  • In August, Ms. Keela organized the first-ever meeting of the Free Minds Parent Support Group.  We have always wanted to get the families of our members more involved, and are very excited about the first meeting.  Mothers of Free Minds members gathered to share resources, stories, and support in order to forge a stronger community to help our members when they come home.
  • Free Minds Reentry member Bobby recently graduated from the Alexandria Seaport Foundation apprenticeship, in which he learned how to build a boat and sail it!  The Alexandria Seaport Foundation has been a longtime partner of Free Minds, and we are thrilled for Bobby.  While at Seaport, he took a sailing course and was their first ever apprentice who learned how to sail and compete in a sailing race.  Bobby was even selected as the Apprentice of the Month, and was featured on their website!  We are incredibly proud of him.  He’s ready to sail on with even more success!
  • An exciting new partnership will officially begin this fall. The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) contacted us and asked if our members home from prison could speak to DC area middle and high school students encouraging them to stay in school and take advantage of the business skills they learn in their entrepreneurship classes.  Free Minds members will also share their childhood experiences and the struggles they faced during incarceration. As part of a pilot last spring Free Minds members spoke at a high school in Virginia. The student response to their personal stories and message of hope was emotional and powerful. This is from a NFTE teacher after the Free Minds visit:

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!

FM members sharing poetry at a library opening
FM members sharing poetry at a library opening
On the Same Page event at DC Family Shelter
On the Same Page event at DC Family Shelter
Ms. Keela helping Maurice perfect his resume
Ms. Keela helping Maurice perfect his resume
Mark, eager to read an autobiography of change
Mark, eager to read an autobiography of change
Outreach team speaks at youth detention center
Outreach team speaks at youth detention center

Links:

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:

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:

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"

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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