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:

Mar 12, 2012

Free Minds Spring Reentry Update!

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:

Jan 23, 2012

Book Club Activities This Fall

FM member Kevin reviewing BAM! responses
FM member Kevin reviewing BAM! responses

Friends of Free Minds,

Thanks to your generosity our new initiative "Books Across the Miles" BAM! has been a great success so far! A "virtual" book club for 125 of our Free Minds members, young men incarcerated in federal prisons scattered throughout the country, can now enjoy reading the same book and engaging in written discussions through  our newsletter Free Minds Connect. Our members tell us that the newsletter is a lifeline for them. It tells them that the outside community cares about what they think and feel and they are not forgotten! It's a vital forum for self expression and learning. They have a voice. Here is an update of what our members have read so far:

  • We shipped our first BAM! selection Ruined, a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage that looks at the atrocities of sexual abuse and rape committed against women by soldiers on both sides of Congo’s civil war without knowing how it would be received. The subject matter was intense and could bring up a lot of painful emotions from our members. This was also the first time most of our members, including Stephen, age 21, had ever experienced reading a play. He wrote to us from a federal prison in Pennsylvania after finishing the play:
     
            I just read “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage, and I can honestly say I just got back on this compound. I was just in that small town in Congo at “Mama Nadi’s” LOL. I really did just zone out because I didn’t put the book down until I finished it. At first I was gonna read a certain amount of pages and call it a night. However, the suspense kept me reading from start to finish.... I [wanted to respond before] coming down from this “high” from having a Free Mind!
     
            Kenneth, Age 24 wrote the following in response to our discussion questions printed in the Connect newsletter.
    I learned that anyone in the path of war can become a victim.  The violence of war alters people’s lives by breaking up their families. I think the play is called “Ruined” because what a woman has is sacred. So once it’s unfitfully taken, a woman may feel “Ruined.”
     
    One of the most powerful responses we received was from JG a member who is serving time for a rape offense. He shared how much the play affected him and allowed him to see sexual violence through the eyes of the victim. He is undergoing sex offender treatment at his facility and shared how transformative reading the play was for his own growth and recovery. We were humbled and awed by the power of reading and writing to heal.
     
    Because Ruined and the female protagonists’ stories in the play had such an impact on our members we decided to expound on the theme of relationships for our next BAM!selection and chose Hill Harper’s book The Conversation: How Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships. Our members had enjoyed Harper’s two other books, Letters To A Young Brother and Letters To A Young Sister and eagerly read his prescription for healthy male and female partnerships. The book sparked an excellent response from our members who mailed us poems, articles and essays on their views on what makes a good relationship whether it’s with your girlfriend or your cellmate.  Darius gave us tips how he handles arguments with his girlfriend and Kevin stressed the importance of finding common ground with your “cellie”.  The interaction our members are able to receive by sharing their writing in the Connect newsletter builds a positive peer network of support that is so vital to their success while incarcerated and when they return home.
  • Receiving the Connect has become a highly anticipated monthly event among Continuing Support Members.  Mike who had been transferred from a Federal Prison in California to one in Pennsylvania wrote to us to make sure we knew he had been moved  “I wanted to let you know that this is the address where I'm at now,” he wrote. “I didn't want to miss the "Free Minds Connect" and the opportunity to write something up from the prompts in it.”  Vincent who is on solitary confinement wrote recently “Getting the Connect always brightens my mood. I can feel the good energy and it makes me feel part of something good.”  BAM! accomplishes the goals of continuing the love of shared reading of the same book first ignited in the Book Club at the jail and strengthening the sense of community among Free Minds members.
    In December we mailed out our third BAM! title Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!  by Robert Kiyosaki. This was at the suggestion of Free Minds member and Reentry Coach Michael who gained many valuable insights about the role of money in his life after reading the book and wanted his fellow Free Minds members to share in that awareness.  The Books Across the Miles BAM! project has strengthened our program on many levels and we are truly grateful for all our wonderful supporters who've allowed us to bring the power of reading and writing to our members.
  • We also publish our members' writing to our writing blog. Check it out and provide feedback. The new poets love it! It boosts their self confidence as writers and lets them know that their voice matters.We then print out and mail out the comments and feedback from the blog to each federal prison. Our members all tell us they look forward to this wonderful connection to the outside world.
  • We added another initiative because we receive so many poems and articles from our members that we needed another forum to provide feedback. We started "Write Night" which allows volunteers to gather together in one place and provide hand written feedback for our members. They comment directly on printouts of the poems. We send our members the feedback from these events for inspiration for their next poems. If you are in the Washington DC metro area contact us and we'll invite you to the next "Write Night" We'd love to have you!

Thanks again for your belief in the power of books and writing!

The "Connect" ready to be sent out to FM members!
The "Connect" ready to be sent out to FM members!
FM volunteers commented on poetry at Write Night
FM volunteers commented on poetry at Write Night
FM members work on BAM! responses at the office
FM members work on BAM! responses at the office

Links:

 
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