Thank you so much for supporting our long-distance book club and writing workshop with incarcerated youth. In the past 3 months, we have sent books, newsletters, and more to over 300 young adults in federal prisons across the country. Instead of us telling you the impact of your gift, we will let our members speak for themselves as they say it best!
Books Across the Miles: Prison Book Club
In our “Books Across the Miles” long-distance book club, Free Minds members in federal prisons across the country have been reading Tears for Water by Alicia Keys, a book of poetry and lyrics.
SL, a new Free Minds member participating in “Books Across the Miles” for the first time, reflected on his favorite poem in the book, “When Gone Is the Glory.” SL said, “I feel like this expresses how I felt about having a name/rep in the streets. Now I’m gone and my name/rep means nothing. All the so-called friends left with it.”
LC in long-term solitary confinement wrote, “The Golden Child poem was so powerful to begin with…I’m eager to read her words and give a full review of the book. I am certain that she will elevate my poetic skills.” After he finished the book he wrote back, “She is so raw and real with her words. Her poems are beautiful. She paints on the canvas of her heart. I try to do the same.”
DP wrote, “I’ve always been a fan of Alicia Keys, but reading Tears for Water made it seem like she was right here talking to me. It’s hard for me to pinpoint one poem as my favorite because I have so many pages folded over, and those are all the ones that I like.”
GL wrote, “I appreciate the book by Alicia Keys, Tears for Water. I just started the book, but so far it seems to be a good book of poetry. As a poet, I can relate to her work… Mainly because I feel it deep within the confines of my heart and soul.”
The Free Minds Connect: Empathy
In addition to reading and writing poetry, Free Minds members explored the idea of empathy in the latest issue of our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, mailed to readers in prisons across the United States.
Free Minds member BG shared his experiences after participating in a victim’s impact group: “One of the guests played a 911 call from a time when someone broke into a woman’s home when she was alone with her baby. It was awful. After hearing the stories in the group, it made me feel for people I have victimized and I didn’t ever want to take advantage of anyone again.”
MS wrote about the difficult of feeling empathy while incarcerated: “The word empathy is like the polar opposite of our surroundings. Behind these walls you can find some of the most unempathetic people. I highly promote the emotion empathy and at the same time to exercise empathy in this culture is a monumental task. At first, I felt like empathy is an emotion I can leave behind. It gets very tiring to feel someone else’s pain while dealing with your own. However, I need to work on empathy to become the well-rounded man I strive to be.”
After reading this issue of the Connect, one Free Minds member, TB, wrote back: “I consider myself to be a highly intelligent individual, and whenever I have been asked about what the word empathy meant to me over the years, my response had always been a formal one, very dry and lacking in its true meaning. But after reading this issue of the newsletter, I fully understand its true meaning.”
Your generosity allows us to reach more and more young adults, and to make these moments of change and inspiration possible. Thank you for believing in the transformative power of reading and writing.
Thanks to your support, we are able to provide comprehensive reentry support to formerly incarcerated youths in DC. In October, nine Free Minds members graduated from the Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. Congratulations to Terrell, Lawaun, Reginald, Anthony, Hosea, Nigel, Gary, Jeffrey, and David!
They worked hard during the month-long Apprenticeship, practicing reading and writing, computer literacy, entrepreneurship, workplace problem solving, and more. They gained real on-the-job experience working shifts at two local contracting companies founded and run by fellow returning citizens (formerly incarcerated).
Free Minds Members Go to the Supreme Court
The Apprentices went on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Supreme Court of the United States! The Free Minds members toured the building and sat in the courtroom while arguments were happening. One Free Minds member said he couldn’t believe he actually got to visit the place he sees on TV and reads about in the newspaper. Another member said it was exciting to see what goes on in the Supreme Court because he knows that’s where the most important cases in the country are decided. We gave copies of our book, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison, to the Supreme Court Justices, and they wrote back telling us how much they appreciated the book and how the poetry and prose affected them. The voices of youth in the criminal justice system are being heard at the highest levels!
At the graduation ceremony, senior Free Minds members welcomed the new graduates into the Free Minds brotherhood, a network of support among formerly incarcerated Free Minds members in the workforce. One Free Minds member, Gary, who is a supervisor at a pet daycare, said, “I remember going through everything [the current Apprentices] are doing now. It actually helped me prepare for what I’m facing now.”
As a supervisor, Gary recommended another Free Minds member, Greg, for an open position at the pet daycare center. Greg has now been working there for several months and is excelling at the job.
Since we launched the remodeled Apprenticeship program in January 2015, over 80 Free Minds members have graduated and gone on to pursue exciting new adventures. We are very proud, and look forward to seeing what they accomplish next.
Free Minds Members Sharing the Untold Story
In September, Free Minds members and Apprenticeship graduates participated in the National Book Festival, sharing their poetry and personal stories, and elevating the voices of their fellow Free Minds members who are currently incarcerated. Visitors to the National Book Festival could read poetry in The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison, a collection of poetry and personal essays by Free Minds members.
One young man, D’Angelo, said, “When I was in prison, I was always telling myself, I’m going to do better. When I get out, I’m going to make a good life for myself. And now, seeing these books, and our words in these books? And people reading them, hearing our stories? It gives me hope. That’s hope right there.”
At the National Book Festival, Free Minds members met a television producer who invited them to appear on the local Fox 5 Morning Show. Terrell appeared on the Morning Show to talk about Free Minds, youth incarceration, and the value of creative expression.
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!