“I joined the Apprenticeship Program to turn my life around."
In our work with returning citizens, one thing that we’ve learned is that reentry begins on the inside--mentally and physically. That’s why we were so excited a few weeks ago when a federal prison invited us as reentry experts to lead a workshop in the prison with over a hundred inmates planning ahead for their release. Our reentry team traveled to the facility where we met approximately 120 inmates, several of whom were Free Minds members, proudly telling everyone about the Book Club! We led the participants in workplace role playing sessions, and Free Minds Reentry Apprenticeship Trainer inspired everyone with his personal story of becoming a successful business owner after being incarcerated at a young age. We shared our new motto about the three most important aspects of reentry: Belief, Action, and Motivation. Believe that you can do it, take action to achieve your goals, and remember what motivates you, such as a loved one or a dream for your future, even when you’re facing difficult odds. We’ve received a stack of letters from the participants telling us how motivated they are now, and the prison has invited us back to do a job fair in a few months!
Meanwhile in DC, our Apprenticeship is going strong!
This past June, six more young men from DC have graduated from our Job-Readiness and Life Skills Apprenticeship and are already on to their next steps to success!
The apprentices worked hard throughout the month, providing program support in the Free Minds office, learning crucial job skills, and gaining practical on-the-job experience with Clean Decisions, a cleaning and contracting company founded by Free Minds member Will, and Perspectives, a contracting company founded by Reentry Apprenticeship Trainer Marcus Bullock and his business partner Anthony Belton. In addition, many of our community leaders and facilitators from previous apprenticeship sessions continued to invest in our apprentices, including Donald Curtis from SOUL (Student-Athletes Organized to Understand Leadership) and Larry Carroll Sr from KAOOS gym in DC. We recognize the importance of having mentors that you can relate to and who understand what you’re going through, which is why we connect our apprentices with formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs such as Will (a former Free Minds member, now founder of Clean Decisions!), Marcus Bullock, Anthony Belton, Donald Curtis, Larry Carroll, Sr., and more!
Other topics of our Monday, Wednesday, Friday sessions included resume writing, job interviews, college preparation, nutrition, physical fitness, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and more. Apprentices also visited the Newseum where they learned about civic responsibility and the Civil Rights Movement. In another session, they discussed advocacy with representatives from the Corrections Information Council (CIC). This was particularly interesting because a Free Minds member currently works for the CIC!
One recent Apprenticeship graduate, Anthony, hadn’t thought about what he wanted to do with his life when he first started the Apprenticeship after being released from prison. But after meeting Reentry Apprenticeship Trainer Marcus Bullock he began to work on concrete career goals. He was particularly inspired by a workshop on decision-making with guest speaker Dave Ungrady from the Born Ready project. As Anthony recalls, “I joined the Apprenticeship Program to turn my life around." Now he has completed additional vocational training programs and is thinking about different careers. He even referred a friend to the Apprenticeship program, giving us his stamp of approval!
Terrell, a current Apprentice, shared with us why he’s motivated to complete the program and change his life: “The Apprenticeship is a real opportunity for me to grow. I’m learning more about me. At first I wasn’t a big people person but I’m discovering that I can deal with all types of people from all walks of life. I want to help people now. Before when I was younger I had so much resentment and negativity toward others. I’m wiser now. I know how to think instead of just acting. I have new goals now. I’m able to learn how to better myself and be more productive. When I was into the lifestyle of the streets it was all about instant gratification...Now I have an entirely different motivation. The Apprenticeship is helping me because everyone needs help, you just can’t be afraid to ask for it.”
Recently, several of our members spoke at our Volunteer Write Night event in Takoma Park, where they shared their poetry and life experiences with a diverse group of volunteers from the D.C. area, and they read poetry by FM members who are currently incarcerated and wrote encouraging feedback for the poets. As we all know, reentry starts from the inside!
At Write Night, our senior Reentry Support members who have been in the program for a long time joined us in congratulating Phil on his 1-year anniversary of his release from prison. Phil has been working steadily for the Corrections Information Council, as well as doing outreach with Free Minds!
Another member, Tony, proudly told everybody about being a firefighter and how much it meant to him to be able to help people and support his community. Free Minds member Khalef brought his entire family to the event to show them the program that he was a part of.
We couldn't be prouder of our members, and we look forward to seeing what they accomplish next! Thank you for your continual support, and for believing in the power of books and writing to heal communities and transform lives!
Dear Free Minds Friends, This summer, Free Minds members have continued to keep their minds active by reading our most recent long-distance book club selection, If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success by Chef Jeff Henderson. Henderson is a friend of Free Minds, celebrity chef, and motivational speaker who discovered his passion for cooking while serving a ten-year sentence for dealing drugs. He visited our Book Club at the DC Jail several years ago after publishing his first book, Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove. Cooked was a big favorite among Free Minds members and in his second book he continues to engage and inspire them. In If You Can See It, You Can Be It, he shares some of his strategies for success in life. He presents this advice as 12 different “recipes,” on topics such as entrepreneurship, making decisions, changing your life, and achieving happiness and success.
Free Minds members are relating to Jeff’s personal journey and have been encouraged by his advice for making change:
“I’m writing to let you know I enjoy reading If You Can See It, You Can Be It. This book really opened up my eyes about certain situations. It allowed me to get better in touch with myself. I’m learning more and more about how Chef Jeff Henderson really survived while being in jail...It also showed me that yeah I lived a rough life but at the end of the day I’m still living.” - LB
“I got If You Can See It, You Can Be It! I like the title. It’s meaningful and has some powerful statements inside of it that is much encouragement. We are on lockdown right now so it gives me more to do with myself.” – RD
“I actually just got a chance to start reading the Chef Jeff book yesterday…It may be the best book by far!! Because as I was skimming through it I noticed it has stuff you can write down and see what’s your best character trait you possess. I actually like that! I was going to wait to read the rest until I go to the store to get a composition book because I wanna write a lot of that stuff down to see what I get!” - DG
Our next BAM book will be the novel Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley, author of novels including Devil in a Blue Dress and The Long Fall. Debbie Dare is a famous porn star, but one day she comes home to find her husband dead in a bathtub with another woman. Upset, numb, and in major debt, Debbie wants to move on with her life but isn’t sure how. Free Minds members are looking forward to reading about Debbie’s journey towards change and self-discovery.
The Free Minds Connect Newsletter: “Make Your Voices Heard”
The Free Minds Family has also been keeping busy with our Connect Newsletter, which we send to our members in federal prisons across the country. The most recent issue of the Connect focused on Learning as a main theme, and as always featured several members’ writing and artwork. Towards the end of the newsletter, we also included an article about Free Minds that was featured on the front page of the Washington Post back in February. Reading about their fellow FM brothers in such a prestigious publication and positive light really amazed our members who are still incarcerated:
"I received the latest issue of the Connect and was overwhelmed to read that the Free Minds organization made the front page of the Washington Post. Make your voices heard throughout Washington, D.C. I really enjoy reading all the informative articles, poems and words of encouragement. Let all our young members know that they are all courageous individuals and that courage is not a feeling, it is an action." - QS
We can’t wait to hear the feedback from our July issue of the Free Minds Connect, especially since it’s all about Our City, DC! Articles include an interview with Washington Post Music Critic Chris Richards about go-go music, the Top 7 Hidden Treasures of DC, and a touching interview with a Free Minds mom who shares how she supports her son on the inside. So many of our members are in federal prisons far from their loved ones, and for them the Connect is a vital lifeline offering news, information, and advice to help them cope with their situation and prepare themselves for reentry.
“People Out There Really Listen”
This summer we’ve held several Write Lunches (mobile Write Night events where people from the community gather to read poetry by Free Minds members and write feedback for the incarcerated poets) at businesses and organizations in DC. After each Write Lunch, we mail the poetry feedback to our members who often write to tell us how much they value the encouragement and inspiration.
“I received your mail with my “Phenomenon” poem in it and the good people’s comments. First, I would like to say thanks to them all for expressing themselves to me. It gives me motivation that there is people out there that really listen and care about my art because they are straight from the heart. And to Laura with the question “Does heavy rain and thunder have a great meaning?” It does, basically it symbolizes the hurt and pain and my anger and struggles in the past. - DI
“I love the feedback, it lets me feel what the readers feel and get out of what they're reading. When I write I try to take the readers with me if I ever even let people know what is on my mind. So much goes on in this head it's crazy. But yeah Imma make sure I get you all a lot more for the blog and that good old Write Night.” - SJ
These strong connections with our incarcerated members would not have been possible without the dedicated support of people like you. Every time you contribute, you are sending hope and real educational opportunities for incarcerated youths. THANK YOU from all of us for believing in the power of books and writing to transform lives!
We are thrilled to announce that seven more apprentices have recently graduated from our Job Readiness and Life Skills Apprenticeship in April! They are brimming with knowledge about college preparation, resume writing, workplace problem solving, and more!
One of our mottoes here at Free Minds is “Show, don’t tell,” advice that works for creative writing and for life! We look for mentors who can show—not just tell—our apprentices how to lead a positive life because they are living proof of their own message. We work hard to provide workshop leaders that our apprentices can relate to and look up to, people who have come from similar backgrounds and overcome great obstacles to become successful business owners and community leaders. Some of these leaders include Donald Curtis from SOUL (Student Athletes to Understand Leadership), who taught our apprentices about college prep, and Larry Carroll, Sr. from KAAOS gym who trained the apprentices in physical fitness and wellbeing.
We are also thrilled to announce a new official member of our Reentry Team. Marcus Bullock, founder of the company and app Flikshop, has been working with Free Minds for several years leading our workshop on entrepreneurship and now will be our Apprenticeship Coordinator, co-facilitating our workshops and managing all aspects of our Apprenticeship program. Each apprentice will have an opportunity to work for Perspectives, a general contracting company that does residential and commercial remodeling. Perspectives is run by Marcus Bullock and Anthony Belton, both returning citizens and role models. A former inmate turned entrepreneur himself, Marcus brings invaluable energy, encouragement, and life experience to his new role as Reentry Coordinator.
Another invaluable component of our Apprenticeship is the chance for our apprentices to interact with high level business professionals as part of our partnership with the Advisory Board Company (ABC), who facilitated job role play workshops in which their wonderful employees acted out real-life workplace scenarios that Free Minds members have encountered on the job, and demonstrated ways to handle the various challenges. In each scenario, a Free Minds member acted as the boss or co-worker, and a member of the Advisory Board team acted as the employee. The folks from ABC continue to be courageous and flexible, especially since our roleplaying Free Minds members don’t go easy on them! The best part by far was when the Advisory Board volunteers shared their own personal stories of work challenges from both past and present jobs. Hearing that everyone goes through tough job stress makes the apprentices realize they are not alone. The opportunity to see a professional office and meet folks who really care about their success is invaluable for our apprentices.
Some of our apprentices also participated in the Our City Festival, a recent celebration of DC through film, music, and literature. A crowd gathered at the MLK Library on a Sunday afternoon to view "Our Voices," our collaborative show with Chris Ousley from the folk band Bumper Jacksons. The show opened with the talented spoken word artist Bomani Armah, and then seven Free Minds Poet Ambassadors performed an original spoken word piece. Each Poet Ambassador also individually shared poems written by fellow Free Minds members who are still incarcerated, backed up by musicians from the Chuck Brown trio, DC’s legendary go-go band.
"Our Voices, Our Voices, Our Voices are the key.
Now we feel accomplished, accepted, and free."
Combining the reflective process of writing and the creative process of performing with music made the collaboration and delivery all the more powerful. As poet Bomani Armah articulated, "The more these young men can tell their stories, the better off we all are."
None of these amazing ventures would have been possible without the dedicated support of people like you. Because of your support, our Free Minds members not only have their stories told, but they have their voices heard.
Thank you again for making our work possible!