To all of our incredible supporters - thank you for helping us facilitate a community of contemplative and expressive free minds! Thanks to your generosity, we’ve been able to provide the transformative tools of books, writing, and community support to nearly 400 youths and adults in 2018 so far. Since our last report, we have added 29 new members to “Books Across the Miles,” our long distance prison book club. This year alone, we have shipped over 700 books to incarcerated members in federal prisons across the United States.
Some of the letters we received this month reminded us of exactly why the support we get from you is so life-changing:
"This book was right on time. It came at a point in my life where I needed to look deeper into myself and the world around me to gain some perspective.” Free Minds member Stephen
“I'd love to learn how to write something because being a prisoner to your own inarticulation is worse than being in [the maximum security prison]!” Free Minds member Greg
We are thrilled to announce that since our last report, the DC Department of Corrections has made a new program available to members at the DC Jail, in which they can now take college classes with Ashland University and are learning to use tablets. This opportunity has helped our members at the jail to become ready and excited for higher education! In the words of our Free Minds members:
"This is my very first college experience with Ashland. I can see that this experience has motivated me to be more responsible. I am eager every day to get my tablet and participate in my lessons. Undertaking the courses gives me drive to prepare for responsibility in the community. My sense of self-worth has increased knowing that I will be able to say that I am educated and can use my education to make a difference." Free Minds member Duane
Meanwhile, Free Minds member Rafael graduated from college. Congratulations, Rafael!
Books Across the Miles: I Am Malala
Free Minds members just finished reading and discussing the most recent BAM book, I Am Malala, a memoir by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai — “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban”. Here’s what some Free Minds readers in federal prison had to say in our book discussions:
“Reading this beautiful story, I still find myself in shock of Malala! Her tenacity and will to fight and speak out against the Taliban, for the right of all children receiving an education is phenomenal. We tend to take for granted the blessings we have over here in America, not realizing that there are a million Malalas all around the world. I wish every child had the opportunity to the read the words of this courageous young woman and learn from her words the importance of an education.”
“Malala is an amazing young lady. I wish there were more people in the world like her. She stands up for what she believes in. The Taliban is trying to repress the future of Pakistan because the children are the future. Think about all the kids here in the United States that don’t go to school and wonder where their next meal is coming from. I have a 14 year- old daughter that lives in Mexico with her mom. She is a US citizen but her mom isn’t, so she is being deprived the right to go to school in the US. The schools in Mexico are not very good at teaching the students there. This is a must-read book for all, and I respect Malala for all her work and wish her well and good luck. I think if one family taught one child to think like her and then taught another, we could change the world.”
Free Minds Members voted for our next nation-wide read to be Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as the next book club selection for 2018. As always, feel free to read along with us and follow our discussion in the next Connect issue.
In the latest issue of our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, our members, staff, and volunteers shared their thoughts — and poetry— on the theme, “education,” and how knowledge can set us free. Topics ranged from The Things You Can’t Learn From a Book to Education from Behind Bars and Education: A Tool to Help Us Survive. You can read the entire issue in the link at the bottom of this post.
As always, thank you for making our work possible. We look forward to the rest of the year, and want to leave you with a quote from one of our Free Minds members, Gary, who continues to inspire us to pay your kindness forward:
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reconstruct a culture that I’ve helped to destruct.”
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.