Jul 6, 2012

A Shared Journey through Books Across the Miles

Responses to Enrique
Responses to Enrique's Journey

Dear Free Minds Friends,

Thanks to your support, Books Across the Miles (BAM!), our ‘virtual book club,’ is about to turn one and is still going strong!  Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop begins in a small room on the juvenile block of the DC Jail, where 16- and 17-year-old boys meet every Thursday to discuss the books they’re reading and to work on their own writing.  Recent book club books include Game Over, 16 on the Block, and Fatherhood.  But when they turn 18, they’re transferred to the adult jail or to federal prisons.  Since DC does not have its own prison, these young men are often sent across the country to institutions where they are far from their families and friends.  At this critical juncture, reading and writing prove to be an invaluable connection to the community.  Through Books Across the Miles, each member receives the same book, along with discussion questions, writing prompts, and responses in our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect.  This allows us to continue nurturing a love of reading and a sense of togetherness even when we are physically separated. 

In our last report, we told you about our BAM! selection Rich Dad Poor Dad.  After the success of Rich Dad Poor Dad, we read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Navarro.  Enrique’s Journey is the true story of a young boy who makes the treacherous journey from his home in Honduras to the United States.   Abandoned by his father, he lived with his mother and his younger sister until she too left him and his sister – she traveled to the U.S. to make a living for her family.  After years of heartbreak and separation, 16-year-old Enrique set out to find her.

We chose this book for Books Across the Miles because it tells the harrowing tale of a journey which many of our Free Minds members have made.  By reading Enrique’s Journey, we hoped to spark a greater understanding and appreciation for other backgrounds and perspectives, and a greater sense of community.  Judging by the responses we’ve received so far, it has been an overwhelming success!

One member, Hernan, wrote in a letter from federal prison, I lived a story just like Enrique’s Journey when I came to the United States.”  He went on to tell of hours spent hiding in a cramped train compartment, and the treacherous dealings with coyotes and traffickers.  At one point, he said, the Mexican coyotes took them out of the train where they had been hiding.  “They took all of our money and they all had AK-47s.”  They raped a young girl in front of her mother and the rest of the travelers.  “I was 8 years old,” he wrote, “and I remember how I trembled in fear.”

Yester wrote to us with a similar story, of how he too traveled to the United States to rejoin his mother, and how he walked for days through the Sonora desert without a guide. 

“Like Enrique, I am also from Honduras, from a city called Siguatepeque, two hours from Tegucigalpa.  When I was 5 years old, my father abandoned my mom, my sister, and I.  The money ran out and we were in need, so my mom decided to go the US.  It was a very sad life and I really wanted to be with my mom.”  When he was 14, he left Honduras to rejoin his mother in the United States.  In his own words, “At one point, we all had to get on the luggage compartment of the bus, more than 20 people, for over an hour, while we were at a checkpoint.  I felt like I was dying from the heat and the poor ventilation, I couldn’t breathe very well and was in great agony…We got to the Sonora desert, which was the place where we had to walk for two days and two nights, but most of the time we walked at night, along with a Mexican guide, whose job was to cross people over from the Mexican side to the US side. The next day we lost him because he used all the money that the coyote had given him to buy a drug named chrystal and he walked too fast until we lost him.  So two days turned into four agonizing hot days where we had to sleep during the day and walk at night.  I was traumatized, I couldn’t sleep, I felt scorpions and snakes walking on me, it was a desperate situation.  We ran out of water twice; the first time, we found a water tank, like for a farm, where there were dead birds and filth, but we needed water, so we drank it.”

But Enrique’s Journey isn’t only for people who have lived through those situations.  Demetrius, an African American Free Minds member who has lived in Washington, D.C. his entire life, aptly proved the power of literature to connect people of different backgrounds, when he wrote this for our newsletter: “I could relate a lot to that book.  I mean I didn’t have to jump no trains and stuff but when I was young I was also separated from my mother.”  Thanks to Books Across the Miles, Demetrius, Yester, and Hernan were able to relate to another’s story, express that through our newsletter, and feel a common bond.

We have just sent out our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, and are currently preparing for the next book order.  Thanks to your continued support, over 125 young men will receive the book Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler by Azie Faison.  We are all very excited about this new book, which chronicles one man’s motivations and methods for seeking positive change in his life. 

In the meantime, the young men in our book club continue to read and write poetry; you can read some of their poems on the Free Minds Writing Blog.   Take a look, find a poem you like, and write a comment for the poet!  The writers love hearing feedback from the community.  It builds their self-esteem and shows them that their voices are being heard.  Every week, we print out and mail the comments to the incarcerated poets.  Though it takes only a minute to write a comment, it means so much to the poets when they hear from you. 

As always, we are deeply grateful for your generosity and your belief in the power of reading and writing.  As we say to our members, keep your mind free!

Books Across the Miles in the Free Minds Connect
Books Across the Miles in the Free Minds Connect
Free Minds Reentry members mailing the Connect
Free Minds Reentry members mailing the Connect
The Free Minds Connect, ready to be mailed
The Free Minds Connect, ready to be mailed
FM member Dashon previews the next BAM! book
FM member Dashon previews the next BAM! book

Links:

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:

Apr 9, 2012

"I Love That Book"

"Free Minds Connect" ready to be mailed
"Free Minds Connect" ready to be mailed

Dear Friends of Free Minds,

Thanks to your support, “Books Across the Miles,”  or “BAM!” continues to be a big hit!  Our “virtual” book club allows us to share books with 125 of our Free Minds members in Continuing Support, young men from DC now incarcerated in federal prisons all over the country.  Because they are far from home, their loved ones are rarely able to visit them and the long-distance book club is one of their only opportunities to really connect to each other and to the outside world.  Through “Books Across the Miles,” these young men can read the books together—even though they’re far apart—and participate in discussions through our newsletter Free Minds Connect.  The newsletter, along with BAM! helps them feel connected and shows them that the outside community has not forgotten about them, a crucial element in promoting positive transformation. 

In our last report, we told you about reading “Ruined,” by Lynn Nottage. After that, we read “The Conversation” by Hill Harper, a powerful book about relationships between men and women. It got an appreciative response from BAM! participants, including one who wrote from Federal Prison in California to say:“I’m reading The Conversation, and it’s just perfect for me!”

One of the goals of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop is for members to be deeply involved with all levels of the organization, and so we are proud that the next selection was chosen a Free Minds member himself. Michael, now home in the community, explains his process:

  "There was a time when I was on the other side of the fence receiving books. The BAM! book that first caught my attention was named "Ruined." It was my first time reading a play so it was very interesting. Reading it took me back to that place where you feel like you’re going on an adventure . That's what made me fall in love with reading in the first place because I was physically incarcerated, but my mind was free as an eagle soaring above. It inspired me so much I wrote a poem called “Ruined,” so I truly understand the power books have. That leads me to now being on the outside getting the opportunity to choose the latest BAM! book which is "Rich Dad Poor Dad." I chose that book because money is something that plays a huge factor in most of our lives. I read that book while I was incarcerated and it totally gave ma new way of dealing with the "Almighty Dollar." I now know the difference between my needs and wants, which most of the time plays a big role in how we value and spend money. I figure why not pass some valuable information to all the Free Minds Members? If a book can give me a better understanding of something I need to maintain and manage, why not send: Books Across Miles?"

    Micheal's choice of valuable information was confirmed by enthusiastic feedback from participants still incarcerated, including one member who wrote, "I love that book.  All I want to read about is how to make money and make money work for you.  It’s very informative.  It gives wisdom and that’s all I want to do is learn so I can get my brain fat.  I need answers.  I must be successful, it’s a fire burning in me."

After the success of “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” we are now getting ready to send out our next BAM! title: “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario.  “Enrique’s Journey” is the true story of a 16-year-old Honduran boy whose mother left him and his little sister for the United States when they were small children.  Her husband had left her, and she felt the United States was her only chance of being able to earn enough money to give her children the life she wanted them to have.  Unfortunately, what she thought would only take a few years stretched into many more.  Enrique finally sets out on a dangerous journey to the United States to find his mother.  We chose this book because some Free Minds members have actually made this journey and have unbelievable tales to tell. By reading “Enrique’s Journey,” we will be able to better understand and appreciate what some people—including some of our friends—have risked to come to this country. One of the most important things is community—and by taking this journey together we know we can strengthen our own community at Free Minds!

We also continue to publish our members’ writing to our writing blog.  Check it out, find a poem you like, and write some feedback!  The new poets love hearing from you.  It builds their self confidence and lets them know that their voices are being heard.  We print out and mail the comments and feedback from the blog to the poets in federal prisons. You’ve heard from them, now let them hear from you!

Thanks again for your belief in the power of reading and writing! We are so grateful for your support.

P.S. To stay current with the work of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, don't forget to like us on facebook!

Links:

 
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.