Happy Spring! With your support, we continue to provide intensive reentry support for formerly incarcerated youths and adults, including weekly reading and writing workshops, weekly job readiness and personal skill building sessions, and personalized connections to job opportunities, vocational programs, schools, and community services.
In our job readiness and personal skill building program, Free Minds members continue to learn and grow in preparation for career success. In the last few months, Free Minds members have participated in workshops on creative writing, storytelling, financial literacy, starting your own nonprofit, testifying in front of local legislators, job interviews, computer literacy, public presentation, parenting, and more.
Meanwhile, Free Minds members also gather weekly at “The Build Up,” a book club and writing workshop named for the way the streets and prison tear you down, but Free Minds builds you up. At weekly “Build Up” sessions, Free Minds members read and discuss poetry or essays, write and share their own poems, and discuss topics such as perseverance and goal setting.
Free Minds member Aaron wrote the following poem in one of these sessions:
Letter to the Voice in My Head By Aaron Please, I only want positive not negative Please, help me with temptation, don’t face it Please, accommodate my needs. Don’t disintegrate to be fed Please, I need help, the way out of this place If you stop throwing temptation in my face Help, I am seeking knowledge Help, I only feed off positivity Help, my needs are more important than wants Help, positivity I seek, negativity I leak
In February, Free Minds staff and Poet Ambassadors James, Brandon, and Wilson traveled to New York City to visit Columbia Law School. There, they gave a presentation to assembled law students. James, Brandon, and Wilson shared their experiences with public defenders, the judicial system, and incarceration and reentry. Thank you to the Columbia Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual team for sponsoring the event. The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual is a handbook of legal rights and procedures designed for use by people in prison. Wilson said of the experience, “My favorite part of the event at Columbia University was answering all of the questions that the future lawyers in the room had. It made me proud to know that they genuinely wanted to know how to make the system better from folks who have already been in the system.” This represents an important part of our work to build understanding and empathy between future attorneys and those who are directly impacted by the criminal justice system.
In March, Poet Ambassador took another trip, this time to Tampa, Florida, to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference. James spoke on a panel called “Redemption in the Pen: Insights from the Journeys of Formerly Incarcerated Writers.” James shared his perspective as a poet and lyricist, and how creative writing helped him maintain his sense of self throughout his incarceration. He also opened up about writing and sharing his story now that he has been released: “People need to hear my story, to understand what I’ve been through and where I’m going.” Thank you to AWP and all the attendees, as well as panelists Michael Fischer, Randall Horton, and Reginald Dwayne Betts.
We are so proud of James, Brandon, and Wilson for sharing our message of hope and healing through poetry.
Finally, congratulations to Free Minds member Gary, who received an award from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (DC probation agency). Gary accepted his award for successful reentry at the Citywide Justice Assembly. Gary has been home and working for five years. We are excited to see what's next on his path!
Thank you for being a partner in our work to support formerly incarcerated youths on the road to success.
Happy New Year to all of our incredible supporters! Thank you for being part of the Free Minds family. Thanks to your generosity, since our last report, we’ve been able to provide the life-changing tools of books, writing, and community support to 360 youths and adults incarcerated in federal prisons across the United States.
Since our last report, we welcomed 39 new members to our “Books Across the Miles” long-distance book club. In three months, we sent 500 brand-new books to members incarcerated in 68 prisons in 30 states. Our Free Minds office mailbox is perpetually stuffed with letters from our members with their thoughts on literature, the Free Minds newsletter, poetry, and more. The letters demonstrate openness and trust, an important ingredient in our members’ long term success, and almost all request specific books and express their deep gratitude for the books that we’re able to send thanks to your generosity.
Free Minds members read and discussed the nonfiction book Hidden Figuresby Margot Lee Shetterly, about the African American women who played a crucial role in the American space program at a time when Virginia was still segregated. Here’s what our readers had to say about the book:
“I cannot believe that when I was growing up in school they never talked about any of the stuff that’s going on in the book, not the NASA program or the women involved. I think the women involved should have plaques at NASA with their names on them for all the sacrifices they went through...One lesson I think it teaches in the memory of the women is if you put your mind to it you can achieve all your goals in life and don’t take no for an answer and don’t stop till you get what you want. Thank you again for the books.” - EH
“It was an amazing and eye-opening book. It’s so sad to now know that these remarkably gifted black women were at the forefront of the American space race, but were pushed to the back and are just now receiving the recognition they so truly deserve. I guess better late than never, right! I often wonder when the evil stain of racial discrimination will ever be removed from this great experiment which we call American democracy. We still have such a long way to go. But if we continue to open our hearts, minds, and mouths we will eventually bridge the divide that will lead us to racial unity.” – QS
“The women who became “girl computers” were held to higher standards ... I feel the pressure of being held to a higher standard each day because I am convicted of a crime and it just feels like people are looking for that one mistake to justify further incarceration. But I reject failure and defeat by following the rules and not giving in to iniquity and temptation.” - DJ
Free Minds members voted for I Am Malala, the memoir by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, as the next book club selection for 2018.
In the latest issue of our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, our members, staff, and volunteers shared their thoughts—and poetry—on the theme “entrepreneurial spirit,” and how we can all apply the principles and strategies for entrepreneurial success to our daily lives. Read what they had to say about making positive life investments, recovering from setbacks, and becoming the CEO of your own life.
As always, thank you for making our work possible. We look forward to new heights and new horizons in 2018.
Thanks to your generosity, together we are helping young men home from prison transform their lives. Free Minds has been very busy these last few months, celebrating Youth Justice Awareness Month, organizing job readiness workshops, and cheering on our members as they continue to inspire us!
Youth Justice Awareness Month (#YJAM)
We honored our Free Minds Reentry Book Club members with a special #YJAM ceremony at our October Write Night. We wanted to celebrate our members’ persistence in the face of the many challenges of reentry. We honored 17 Free Minds members for participating in our Reentry Book Club and Job Readiness Apprenticeship. FM member Louis won the “Perfect Attendance” award, and Lorenzo won the “Perseverance” award! We are so grateful for all of our FM members and their dedication to change; thank you to our supporters for believing in the power of second chances.
To help our members adjust to reentry, Free Minds hosts workshops on job readiness and other important life skills, with formerly incarcerated facilitators who serve as mentors and credible messengers to our members coming home from jail or prison. Since our last report, Free Minds members have learned about fatherhood, co-parenting, job interviews, budgeting and financial literacy, conflict mediation, health and wellness, and more. Free Minds members also went on a field trip to the National Museum of Natural History to expand their horizons and learn more about the world around us. One of our Apprenticeship Trainers, Marcus Bullock, was recently selected as part of John Legend’s inaugural “Unlocked Futures” cohort, a 16-month accelerator for social entrepreneurs impacted by the criminal justice system. Free Minds member Will Avila (Founder/CEO of Clean Decisions) is also part of the Unlocked Futures cohort. Marcus, Will, and other formerly incarcerated business owners are inspirations to all of us and important role models for our members.
Free Minds Members Tell Their Life Stories
DC nonprofit Theatre Lab recently selected Free Minds to be part of their Life Stories Program! This organization helps young people tell their stories through film or theatre as a way to control their narrative and increase their awareness of their creative potential. Our Reentry Book Club members are working with Theatre Lab trainers and professional actors to learn how to tell their stories through theater. We cannot wait to see what they create!
Free Minds Members in the Community
Free Minds members have been actively participating in local politics. Several FM members testified at the DC Council Education committee hearing on education for students during and after incarceration. Free Minds member James spoke at press conference about proposed legislation to curb school suspension. James shared his experiences with being school suspension and the school-to-prison pipeline. We are so proud of our members’ commitment to making a difference!
Free Minds members have also shared their stories with publications such as the Marshall Project and the Washington Post. Finally, huge congratulations to Nick, who won the "Most Improved" Award from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (DC’s probation agency)!
Thank you for everything you have done to support our members on the path to success. We can’t do it without you!