Jordan, member of the Covid Writers Collective
This spring, Free Minds members have continued to demonstrate their resilience, courage, and creativity in the face of continued use of solitary confinement due to the pandemic. With your support, we’ve kept up a steady stream of communication with our members behind the prison walls, including books, poetry feedback, letters from volunteers, our Free Minds Connect magazine, and other resources and words of hope from our Free Minds Poet Ambassadors.
Thank you for joining hands with Free Minds as we endured one of the most change-inducing years. Your continuous help is greatly appreciated!
Books Across the Miles
Due to your gracious support, the Prison Book Club is equipped with the resources necessary to mail every member books, ranging from Kindred by Octavia Butler to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Members have voted on the current “Book Across the Miles” (BAM) book, George Pelecanos’s The Man Who Came Uptown, a novel addressing the “redemptive power of books” told through the eyes of Michael Hudson, a fictional character who wrestles with staying on the right path after being released from prison. Free Minds even received a special mention in this novel! The book club is an intrinsic part in helping our members keep their minds free, as reading provides mental and emotional liberation from the confines of prison. With each BAM book, members also receive discussion questions that ask about plot, characters, and messages of the novel to help engage members’ writing. Discussion questions give members the opportunity to freely express their opinions on a subject, a human need that is often denounced within the prison system.
Free Minds member Terrence wrote in, “I read it in 3 days and it really took me back down memory lane. Once upon a time, I could closely relate to Michael’s character - coming home and not wanting to fall again, but unfortunately being blown into negativity and feeling trapped. I wish I could return to the life of Michael and see where I would have gone. A lot of emotions with this book.”
As they say, “a book is a gift you can open again and again.” Your generosity is a gift to Free Minds!
The Connect: Behind the Scenes
Through powerful testimonies, eye-opening poetry, and weeks of collaboration, the Connect—Free Minds’ literary magazine—connects staff, Poet Ambassadors, and currently incarcerated members to the wider community. The creation of one issue of the Connect involves intensive teamwork between the Free Minds editorial team, staff, volunteers, and both incarcerated and reentry members. The Connect allows members to foster their passion for reading and writing by engaging in fruitful conversations through poems and essays exploring a wide range of subjects. Additionally, this magazine provides Free Minds members a safe space to share their voices, their stories, and most importantly, to be seen.
Like all publications, there are several steps that lead to a final product. First, the Free Minds staff and Poet Ambassadors have an editorial meeting to discuss the new theme, assign articles, and ideas for the cover art. Our currently incarcerated members are involved at every step of the way, providing ideas and feedback along with their submissions. Over a period of 1-2 months, members mail us poems, essays, or articles to be used in the next issue of the Connect. One example is the popular advice column where a member responds and offers sound solutions to pressing questions. The submissions from staff and members are compiled, edited, and then laid out by a graphic designer before going to print. Over 50 people are involved in this process!
The latest issue of the Connect is on the theme Renewal. Free Minds member Meechie recently wrote in to express his appreciation for the Connect: "I love reading the Free Minds Connect. It just makes my day every time I see my name on the mail list because even though it's the only mail I ever receive, it's the best mail to receive. It keeps my mind free with every issue. It's like stumbling upon a ton of water in a desert and my mind is always thirsty for knowledge and new inspirations. So thank you all and keep them coming."
On the Same Page: Write Night is a virtual celebration of our members’ poetry; together, hundreds of volunteers, as well as Free Minds staff and Poet Ambassadors, write heartfelt comments on the poetry from members incarcerated in prisons across the country. Each comment, each drawing, helps members feel closer to home, and is a precious reminder that they are not alone. For volunteers, Write Night is a rare and valuable opportunity to hear directly from people caught in the prison system, and to connect with them literally “on the same page.” Due to the generous support from volunteers, our members’ voices are soaring to new heights and their poetry is being read by those nationally and internationally. In April, in order to meet the high demand, we decided to extend Write Night to an entire week to reach volunteers in different times zones. All week, volunteers all over the world could log on and read and respond to our members’ poetry. Every second a volunteer spends writing a comment touches a member’s heart for a lifetime. The community’s selflessness provides all 900 Free Minds members the space to unearth their voices, in a system designed to bury them.
Covid Writers Collective
Free Minds Poet Ambassadors—formerly incarcerated members who are dedicated to giving back to the community—former the Covid Writers Collective, a collaborative effort to provide resources and support for our incarcerated book club members who have endured more than a year of solitary confinement due to the pandemic. The Covid Writers Collective sends monthly activity kits with news, words of encouragement, brain teasers, writing prompts, and other resources. Each Covid Writers Collective’s kit has a theme, ranging from inauguration day to Civil Rights history. The Covid Writers Collective is a lifeline of information and support for incarcerated Free Minds members.
Free Minds member Jordan expressed his joy in being a part of the Covid Writers Collective: “I experienced how it felt to not be supported at an early age before meeting Free Minds, and especially considering that we share the same experiences and story, it’s only fitting to give back and support others now that we are in a position and have a platform to do so. The pandemic has also mentally drained a lot of people, and just being able to brighten someone else’s day has become a huge part of my daily routine.”
Knowledge is power, and Free Minds Poet Ambassadors have honored that truth with the Covid Writers Collective!
Thank you for being part of our broader collective, and for making all of this powerful community building possible.
Jameon, member of the Covid Writers Collective
The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
Cover art for the Free Minds Connect magazine