Books Across the Miles: Federal Prison Book Club
Readers in our “Books Across the Miles” long-distance book club just finished reading and discussing March: Book Two by Congressman John Lewis and co-author Andrew Aydin. March: Book Two is the second installment in a trilogy of graphic novels about Congressman Lewis’s remarkable life and experiences as one of the “Big Six” leaders in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Here is what some of our readers had to say about this book:
“The book March 2 gave me a deeper respect for every last person who’ve stood before the hideous face of oppression and adversity. For those who know that the path towards freedom has always been stalked by death but still they sacrificed everything they were for everything we have. This book helped me to better understand the courage and bravery that the members of the SNCC and other NON-VIOLENT organizations possessed.… I would like to sincerely extend my gratitude and appreciation to every last person that helped to pave the way for myself and the rest of the descendants of that era that have the privilege to experience the “Dream” of King and Lewis.” - GL
“March 1 and March 2 is getting the history of the Civil Rights Movement straight from one of the original sources--Congressman John Lewis.… The books’ comic form provides excellent visualization through pictures and relates detailed accounts of Mr. Lewis’s journey through the Civil Rights Movement in comprehensible language.” - JL
“Just like Part 1, it was very enlightening. I admire John Lewis. Him and the rest of the world who fight to make this world right. John Lewis’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial was powerful. I’ve always heard of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech but not the rest. How people could be so cruel (siccing attack dogs on children and fire hoses) brought a tear to my eye but the power of unity also did the same.” - RE
The next Books Across the Miles book will be Tears for Water by Alicia Keys, a collection of her lyrics and poetry.
The Free Minds Connect: History
While Free Minds members were reading and writing about Congressman John Lewis and the Civil Rights Movement, they also wrote articles and poetry for the latest issue of the Free Minds newsletter, the Connect. The theme this month was about history, and the articles ranged from the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the importance of knowing one’s history, and how to change a family’s history of incarceration.
“I love this month’s theme about history and our future. We should all learn each other’s culture and history because if we know where we come from we will know where we are going. If we know about our people and the great things they have accomplished, maybe a lot of us wouldn’t feel so hopeless or helpless because we would have strong leaders to look up to and a sense of direction.” - AF
“If I could go back in history, I would love to be able to go back and talk with the incomparable Frederick Douglass. Here’s a man who exemplified self-determination by willing himself to rise above, against all odds. I would ask him what would be his assessment of the Black man’s condition in America if he could be present in our time. Frederick Douglass taught me that once a person becomes self-aware, he or she must become morally conscious and choose principles and purposes to live by.” - QS
“You cannot change history, your father, your son, the cycle of incarceration in your family, nor anything else, until you change yourself. The only thing that I believe in regards to fate and destiny is that we all get what we put out.” - HF
A Book That Changed My Life
Free Minds also sends books personally tailored to the interests of each book club member. This month, we asked them to tell us about a book that changed their lives. Some of their favorites were The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor, Push by Sapphire, A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, As A Man Thinketh by James Allen, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, and more!
One Free Minds member, Terrell, wrote, “Before Free Minds I didn’t read anything at all! I love Free Minds for being around and for showing me a different way of life.”
Another Free Minds member, Malik, whose favorite author is James Patterson, said, “Books changed me. They took me to other places. When I read, I wasn’t in prison anymore. I was wherever that book was taking place and I loved it.” Malik is now home from prison and working at a nonprofit.
Thank you for sharing the life-changing power of books and writing!
In August, 12 formerly incarcerated youths and adults graduated from the Free Minds Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. Congratulations to Caleb, D’Angelo, Damion, Delonta, Freddie, Ira, Isaiah, JaQuan, Joseph, Kenneth, Lorenzo, and Queyon!
With your support, the Apprentices studied and gained hands-on experience with literacy, goal setting, resume writing, job interviews, civil rights and history, health and wellness, budgeting and financial literacy, public speaking and communication skills, entrepreneurship, computer literacy, and more! Each Apprentice also worked a shift with a local contracting company, gaining valuable on-the-job experience alongside real employees and customers. The Apprentices went on a personalized tour of the US Capitol as well! Despite being born and raised in Washington, DC, this was the first time any of the Apprentices had been to the Capitol.
On August 17, Free Minds members and volunteers gathered to read and respond to poetry by incarcerated writers. At our latest On the Same Page: Write Night event, approximately 40 volunteers wrote feedback for Free Minds members who are currently incarcerated. Meanwhile, Free Minds members home from prison, including August Apprentices, shared some of their experiences with incarceration and reentry. For most of our Apprentices, it was the first time speaking in front of a crowd. They received a warm and friendly welcome home reception and we are so grateful.
Damion and Delonta read poetry on behalf of their Free Minds brothers who are currently incarcerated in federal prison. Joseph, Ira, DeAngelo, and Caleb spoke about the impact of their participation in our Reentry Book Club, and what being at Write Night meant to them personally.
DeAngelo shared what it felt like to receive feedback on his poetry when he was incarcerated: "Some of us have support from our families, but what Free Minds does, getting support from those who don't even know us? That means so much. Getting just three words on that paper helps us wake up and get through the day in a positive way."
Free Minds members, staff, families, and friends gathered at the end of the month to celebrate the Apprentices’ hard work at their graduation ceremony. Isaiah volunteered to speak to the gathered crowd: “Sometimes when you’re locked up, your family gives up on you. But Free Minds is like a family--a new family. And they are there for you.”
Two senior Free Minds members and past Apprenticeship graduates, Alvin and Gary, also spoke. Alvin shared how much he learned from the mentors he was introduced to during the Apprenticeship, and Gary spoke about how he values being able to give back to his community. Gary is a supervisor at a pet daycare, and he recently hired Free Minds member Gary, who graduated from the Apprenticeship in May!
Free Minds staff placed 100% of the August Apprentices in job opportunities, schools, or vocational training programs. We are now looking ahead and preparing for the next Apprenticeship class in October.
As Ira told the crowd at Write Night, "Hope, Understanding, and Love" is what Free Minds means to him—and that’s what we see in our supporters. Thank you for providing hope, understanding, and love.
Book Club at the DC Jail
In June, community activist and author Tony Lewis, Jr., (Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration) visited the Book Club at the DC Jail to discuss his memoir about growing up with an incarcerated father and mentally ill mother. When Tony was 9 years old, his father, a former cocaine kingpin, was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for his connection to the largest drug operation in D.C. After his father’s arrest, Tony lived with his mother who struggled with mental illness exacerbated by his father’s incarceration.
Instead of living out what was expected of him, Tony wrote about how he overcame those expectations in Slugg: A Boys Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration. The teenagers in the Book Club chose this book to read because they could see themselves in Tony’s story, and they wanted to hear from the author himself.
When asked what he wanted to communicate to the Book Club members, Tony Lewis said, “I want them to be able to see themselves in me in terms of they can do anything. Coming from communities, families, that may not be perfect, but they can ascend no matter what they’re here for. They can start planning for life after this. And I hope that Sluggcan give them some instructions on how to pursue and reach their goals.” In addition to his work as an author and activist, Tony also works for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, DC’s probation agency. “Not only am I somebody who’s an author, but I actually do the work in terms of reentry. So I want to connect with them on the level that if I can help them move forward, I’m here to do that as well. I hope they are inspired and also empowered to know what they can do, what’s possible.”
As the presentation ended, the young men all rushed over to have Tony autograph their books. We asked the Book Club members if they felt inspired, and the teens answered with a resounding, “yes!” As one teenager said, “If he can do it, that means I can too.”
Federal Prison Book Club
Meanwhile, the young adults incarcerated in federal prison have been reading about another activist with a remarkable life, Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis (D-GA). In our last update, the readers were discussing March: Book One, the first graphic novel in a trilogy about Congressman Lewis’s experiences as one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that, by popular demand, we are shipping over 200 copies of March: Book Two to members of the “Books Across the Miles” long-distance book club in over 40 facilities in 20 states.
Here’s what the “Books Across the Miles” readers had to say about Book One:
“His book is AWESOME! And it being in comic form shows the hero he truly is for civil rights. I love the way the book gives history of the civil rights era and the reasons it came into being.” - JL
“I got John Lewis’s book “March” yesterday. I loved it. Can’t wait to read part 2. John Lewis is an inspiration and a role model…I love John Lewis’s love for the chickens and especially his love for God and humanity. John Lewis was and still is a straight up soldier. I would have loved to grow up on a farm like him minus the segregation part. He is a true example of leadership. He also is living proof of how God works. Him, Gandhi, MLK, and a lot others and you…Whenever you think you strong and a man or a woman because you able to hurt somebody, see if that strength could out match John Lewis and the others at them diners or on that bridge in Selma, or MLK marching in protest with bricks and everything else being thrown at him and others. Or knowing that it was a strong possibility that he would die if he gave that speech but yet still went anyway. Ultimate sacrifice.” - R
Free Minds Connect: I Believe
Last month’s theme for the newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, was “I Believe,” with Free Minds members, staff, and friends sharing their experiences with the power of belief.
Free Minds member JG wrote about the book As a Man Thinketh by James Allen and its profound impact on his own beliefs. “It’s important to be optimistic because when we have enough faith in something, that something becomes our truth, and our life experience will reflect this…Have faith that all your dreams and goals will come to pass. Have faith in humanity and a better world.” - JG
As always, thank you for your support and your belief in the power of books and writing to transform lives.