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Jan 14, 2020

Stories of Hope and Forgiveness

The latest issue of our Connect newsletter
The latest issue of our Connect newsletter

As we begin a new decade, Free Minds is eager to continue our commitment to  the transformative power of reading and writing for youth and young adults who have been incarcerated. Our Prison Book Club fosters community and creates bonds among our members, who are hundreds of miles away from home, and elevates their voices through books and poetry. Thank you for your support and your part in sustaining this community of encouragement and hope.

Connect: Forgiveness

In our latest issue of the Connect, members share their journey with forgiveness and what it means to not only forgive others, but also to forgive oneself. The stories of forgiveness found in this issue are inspirational reminders of the capacity for human compassion and transformation. 

  • How new member of the FM family, Reentry Coordinator Melody, came to forgive the man who killed her husband (p.7)
  • FM member, Craig, shares how the father of the person he killed forgave him and eventually testified in support of his resentencing and early release (p.10)
  • The emotional encounter FM member, BB, experienced when he met face-to-face with the victim of his crime (p.20)
  • Ubuntu Philadelphia Co-founder, Ghani, shares how his organization utilizes different experiences and perspectives of injustice to redefine justice and healing as a community (p.22)
  • Vicarious restorative justice as an alternative method for emotional healing to all parties impacted by the criminal justice system (p.6)

Our members love to show their “attitudes of gratitude”. We receive letters thanking us for everything from birthday cards to our encouragement for members to discover the outlets that reading and writing possess. Thanks to your generosity we are able to send a strong message of support to our members. Here are some excerpts:

“Here you all go again with another big birthday banger! Yes, I just got you all's birthday card today and it couldn't have come at a better, needful, and greater time. So thanks, you just made me that much happier! You got me hearing a new song, I'm holding on to 2 balloons and rising up above this mess! You got me feeling like a superstar! Thanks to all of the Free Minds Family, especially for all of those reinforcing encouraging words on my birthday cards.” - Free Minds member Derrick

“Thank you dearly for all that you do! You all are a God-send to me. Without you all, prison would be so boring. I wouldn’t be happy, I wouldn’t have started writing poems again and I wouldn’t have started writing books.” - Free Minds member Daniel

Books Across the Miles: Man’s Search for Meaning

We asked and our members answered! The next Books Across the Miles selection is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. A survivor of the Holocaust, Frankl chronicles his experience in a Nazi concentration camp and how he managed to discover his purpose in life and use this as a tool of survival. Frankl encourages the reader to mentally escape the confines of their current situation and develop the hope that a positive future is attainable. It offers the message of developing resilience and perseverance in the face of an unimaginable situation.

Members have also written in with thoughtful reflections from the previous Books Across the Miles choice, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. In this work of fiction, teenager Will experiences the cycle of gun violence while trying to seek revenge for the death of his brother. Here is what some members had to say: 

“Long Way Down was a first for me. I never read a book composed of poems that vividly told a story like that before. It was a good book that I plan on sending to my son that is 11 years old. The ending was different and great. It left room for the reader to place themselves in the elevator and gave them the choice to stay on or get off. Not many books can pull the reader in to that level.” - TJ

"I think Reynold's use of poetry is to get the reader to look at his words as a work of art. He gets you to look at Will's situation with the eyes of someone looking at a picture. This is why I think it impacts the reader in a way normal sentences wouldn't. For instance it doesn't read like a novel, it reads like a series of poems that turn into a story." - DS

“There were “rules” in my neighborhood [like Will’s]. If you didn’t follow them, the ole heads would step in and make sure you knew you were outta line. To me not having a father, I looked up to a lot of the ole heads. It was the only option. The ole heads set the rules because they been there, done that, they set the foundation. Changing the rules to the hood is to try to get the youth to understand that it’s not cool to do certain things.” - MZ

“Crying is a sign of weakness in the hood and the weak are taken advantage of. I think not crying has an impact on not just the community but individuals as a whole who have no way to express emotions like hurt, anger, pain and happiness. A baby cries because it can’t talk and tell you what’s bothering it. Crying is a form of release.” - DS

Have you read Man’s Search for Meaning or Long Way Down? You can find discussion questions in our newsletter, The Connect, and follow along with what our members are discussing about each book.  

Again, thank you for supporting Free Minds and listening to and elevating the voices of our members. We appreciate you!

The next Books Across the Miles selection
The next Books Across the Miles selection
A drawing shared by FM member AE
A drawing shared by FM member AE
A letter from FM member DJ
A letter from FM member DJ
Holiday cards from FM members in prison
Holiday cards from FM members in prison

Links:

Dec 23, 2019

"Don't rush to judgement, and you'll be alright."

Free Minds Apprentices present visionary boards
Free Minds Apprentices present visionary boards

Our reentry members are becoming community change-makers thanks to your generous support! Since our last report, we welcomed a new group of apprentices into our intensive Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship--they have now been paired with employment that suits their interests and skills, enrolled into a training program, or begun conducting community outreach through our nonviolence program known as “On the Same Page.” Read on to learn more about the inspiring work of our previously incarcerated youth!

Washington Post Magazine Publishes Groundbreaking Issue by Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Writers

In November, the Washington Post Magazine released a very special issue written, illustrated and photographed by currently and formerly incarcerated people in the United States. Free Minds served as advisers for this issue, and we're proud to announce that two of our Free Minds members were featured! Free Minds members Demetrius B. and Johnny B. submitted personal essays, which were hand selected over hundreds of candidates. This issue is historic in its recognition of the vital need to hear from those directly impacted by the criminal legal system. You can find all the stories here.

You can find all personal essays here.

Recently Released Members complete Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship

This fall, we welcomed a new group of young men home from prison into our intensive Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. Our Apprentices participated in workshops on topics such as financial literacy, giving back, effective communication, storytelling, conflict resolution, and more. Most importantly, they heard advice and encouragement from fellow Free Minds members who are home, working, and ready to welcome them to the circle of support that never breaks.

At the end of the apprenticeship, apprentices, staff, and Free Minds supporters presented personal vision boards on success and future goals and dreams. Free Minds staff and supporters left apprentices with words of encouragement and presented each apprentice with their very own personalized gift—a book representing each apprentices special interest.

After participating in our Apprenticeship, Free Minds apprentice Craig began working at a bowling company and Free Minds apprentice Antonio enrolled into a work readiness program, known as DC Career Connections, to jumpstart his career. Additionally, former Free Minds apprentice Damon graduated from the Building Futures program, which offers certifications for careers in the union construction trades; Free Minds member Brandon graduated from a Commercial Driver’s License program; and Free Minds member Malik began his career with UPS.

Our members have reached tremendous milestones because of your investment. Your belief in our work makes successfully achieving a 9% recidivism rate (compared to a national rate of 75.9%) and a 90% job and school placement rate possible. 

Congratulations to everyone!

Poet Ambassadors Bring Poetry and New Perspectives to DC Police Academy

Free Minds staff and Poet Ambassadors (previously incarcerated members) spoke to nearly 150 recruits about youth and mass incarceration, sharing personal testimonies of change and poetry from our book, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison. Shortly after, recruits broke out into groups and engaged in a "Write Night" activity, which included reading and responding to original poetry written by our incarcerated members. Many of the recruits shared that they were native Washingtonians and could identify with the themes of the poems. For some, their loved ones are currently incarcerated.

As soon-to-be officers, the recruits were eager to ask our Poet Ambassadors for advice. After being asked, "What advice would you give to us to make sure no else goes through what you went through?" Poet Ambassador Chris answered, "Do your job to the best of your ability, but be honest and don't rush to judgement, and you'll be alright." Chris was wrongfully convicted as a teen and served over 20 years in prison.

Thank you Georgetown Law's Program on Innovating Policing's Police for Tomorrow Fellowship Program and MPD Academy for making this happen!

Thank you for making all of this possible. We are only as great as our community!

Special WP issue featuring FM members
Special WP issue featuring FM members
Poet Ambassador Chris offers recruits advice
Poet Ambassador Chris offers recruits advice
FM Apprentice Craig is gifted a book by FM Staff
FM Apprentice Craig is gifted a book by FM Staff
FM Apprentice Shannon is gifted a book by FM Staff
FM Apprentice Shannon is gifted a book by FM Staff
Poet Ambassador Cliff offers recruits advice
Poet Ambassador Cliff offers recruits advice
Oct 18, 2019

"I look forward to my books, postcards, and letters from you guys."

Latest Free Minds Connect Issue
Latest Free Minds Connect Issue

Over the last seventeen years, Free Minds has seen hundreds of incarcerated youths “free their mind” through reading and writing. We are so thankful to have you be a part of our member’s growth, betterment, and invaluable circle of support!

Our Prison Book Club has proven to be the bit of hope and light for our members who are currently miles away from home. Every day, our members write us to tell us how much they appreciate receiving books, cards, words of encouragement, and our monthly newsletter, the Free Minds Connect. Here are some excerpts from letters with “attitudes of gratitude:”

“I received the latest Connect and enjoyed the contents. I love to hear other people share their story because it lets me know I'm not alone. I love the politics and the news of the world. The poetry is art and I love to hear the progression of the organization. As a whole, the Connect keeps me at peace.” - Free Minds member Sanchez

“I appreciate all of the support you guys have showed me while incarcerated in federal prison even from when I was a youth...I look forward to my books, postcards, and letters from you guys. I don't think I told you guys that y’all are one of the reasons I started writing music. The advice and feedback y’all would give me when I was on the juvenile block made me realize that I have a talent and a story. I want to pursue moving forward with my goals and plans that I created while in this predicament.” - Free Minds member Antonio

Books Across the Miles: Long Way Down

Votes are in! Our Free Minds members have chosen to read New York Times Best Selling Author Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down, a fictional story of story about 15-year-old Will who is haunted by the “ghosts of gun violence” after wanting to seek revenge on his brother Shawn’s murderer. On an author visit to the DC Jail to speak to our 16 and 17-year-old members at the DC Jail last August, Reynolds shared, “I wrote this book speaking to my 16- and 17-year-old self...Why violence? No one ever tells us what to do with the pain.” While Long Way Down makes its way across the miles through the mail, we are still receiving feedback on Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a fictional story of a young woman named Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, who leave a party together and are pulled over by a white police officer who kills Khalil. Here is some feedback:

“Lisa [Starr’s mother] reminds me of my mother. As long as I can remember, my mom’s life focus was and is her children. Every move we made was an upgrade in living conditions as well as safety. I don’t fault Lisa or any mother for wanting the best for her child, you can advocate from a distance. You don’t have to be in the skillet to know it’s hot.” - RB

Feel free to read along with us. We would love to have you join the conversation as well!

Connect: Adulthood

In the latest issue of our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, our members, staff, and volunteers shared their thoughts — and poetry— on the theme, “Adulthood.” In this issue, you’ll find the following:

  • A personal essay written by Free Minds member Nick that explores how growing up in areas of high crime can expose children to PTSD, as well as strip them of their innocence and childhood at an early stage of life. Page 5
  • Free Minds member Davon recounts the common misconceptions children have about what it means to be an adult. Now a working man in his early 20’s, Davon commits his time to helping others, fulfilling his responsibilities, and making the right decisions. Page 10
  • Free Minds intern Ben explains the coming of age traditions of Latin America, the Jewish community, Japan, and the Amazon Jungle. The journey from childhood to adulthood is full of challenges—so why not celebrate it? Page 16
  • Free Minds intern Ben highlights important changes to the Youth Rehabilitation Act, a new DC law that may allow members to have their criminal record set aside after completing their sentence. Page 17

We are thrilled to have you witness our members exploring their creativity through books and writing. Thank you for making all of this possible!

Free Minds member Brandon asks for more books
Free Minds member Brandon asks for more books
"Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds
"Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds
Free Minds member Muquan makes FM a card (1/2)
Free Minds member Muquan makes FM a card (1/2)
Free Minds member Muquan makes FM a card (2/2)
Free Minds member Muquan makes FM a card (2/2)
 
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