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!
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