Thank you for supporting Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop! We are off to a strong start in 2017, with new services and many exciting opportunities and experiences for the formerly incarcerated young men in our program.
In January, we launched a new element to our reentry services for formerly incarcerated youth—a weekly book club and writing workshop called “The Build Up.” Free Minds member Terrell named this new program The Build Up because, as he says, prison and the streets tear you down but in Free Minds we build each other up.
Free Minds reentry services now include job readiness and life skills training; supportive employment through partnerships with local businesses; personalized assistance in achieving career goals; connections to jobs, schools, vocational programs, and other services; and the Build Up, a weekly book club and writing workshop.
Members of the Build Up meet once a week to read and discuss literature, write and share poetry, and come together to support each other in navigating the challenges of reentry. One member of the Build Up, James, told us that he spends all week looking forward to it and doesn’t want to miss a single session.
So far in the Build Up, Free Minds members have read and discussed If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success by Chef Jeff Henderson and War Child by Emmanuel Jal. In February, Free Minds welcomed Emmanuel Jal to the Build Up, where he spoke about his life story, his music and writing, and his techniques for overcoming obstacles and “reprogramming your life.” Jal, an author, activist, and musician, is a former child soldier from South Sudan. Free Minds members related to his struggle and found common ground in the way he used storytelling to heal from trauma.
Meanwhile, formerly incarcerated Free Minds members have been sharing their poetry and personal stories with audiences from across the country. In February, Free Minds members presented at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) literary conference in Washington, DC. They participated in a panel discussion, a poetry reading, and the AWP Service Project, in which conference attendees read poetry by incarcerated Free Minds members and wrote words of encouragement to inspire and uplift the incarcerated poets.
In March, two Free Minds members, Nick and Hosea, traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to speak to students at Harvard Law School and to a group of over 100 high school students at St. Mary’s Church in Winchester, MA.
Free Minds members are also mentoring DC middle school students at a local public school, M.V. Leckie. Free Minds members facilitate monthly reading and writing workshops with the 7th grade students, serving as role models and credible messengers to the children.
As Free Minds member DeAngelo says, “The youth are our future. I didn’t really have adults in my life to tell me what was right, so I want to be that for the young people.”
Thank you to all of our supporters for making our work possible. We couldn’t do it without you!
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.