Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults

by Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults
Book Club for Incarcerated Youth and Adults

Project Report | May 23, 2022
Growing the Strength of our Connections

By Jada Snyder | Project Intern

Cover art for the Free Minds Connect magazine
Cover art for the Free Minds Connect magazine

With members in facilities all across the country, there are so many obstacles in the way of staying connected with our incarcerated members. Despite abrupt changes due to COVID and issues with mailrooms, our members sustained their connection to the Free Minds family and regularly mailed in letters, poetry, and art. Your indelible support has been key in enabling us to maintain these connections. 

Books Across the Miles

One component of our work is maintaining our long-distance book club with our members who are incarcerated. Our most recent Book Across the Miles is the New York Times Best Seller The Body Keeps Score. This book, written by trauma-informed therapy expert Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D., takes a deep look into how trauma can reshape the body and brain, completely altering how a person engages with the environment around them. The Body Keeps Score offersseveral strategies for healing from trauma–from therapy and meditation to yoga and exercising. 

FM member Joseph, incarcerated in Kentucky, shared a key takeaway after reading the book: “As I wrote a manuscript of my life's journey, certain traumatic experiences that lay dormant began to surface piece by piece. These memories would cause me to stop writing for a while, but then I realized that the more traumatic memories resurfaced in my mind, the more my internal enemies were revealing themselves. Internal enemies are to be conquered by exercising an inner strength.” 

Member MacArthur, incarcerated in Florida, also reflected on the book: It helped and made me realize that I have, and I'm struggling with my own trauma. The book enlightened me on how to heal from the trauma that I have experienced in my life. Thank you so much for sending me this book.”

How our Magazine Helps us Stay Connected

Our magazine,the Free Minds Connect is a one-of-a-kind publication because it is composed of contributions from staff, incarcerated members, members at home, interns, and volunteers. This is an all hands on deck type of production because we like to ensure that our members feel connected when they receive our magazine in the mail. Each issue focuses on a different theme and also includes discussion of the Books Across the Miles selection for our long-distance book club. The theme of our recent issue, “Wellbeing,” covered different components of wellbeing from physical health to community. This theme aligns perfectly with The Body Keeps Score and included thought-provoking discussion questions for members to respond to. This issue also featured past answers to our long-distance book club discussion questions for our third and recent publication, When You Hear Me (You Hear Us): Voices on Youth Incarceration. This collection of poetry, prose, and reflections comes from incarcerated youth and those in the community also affected by the devastating trauma of incarceration. Reflecting on what our book reveals about community healing, FM member LW writes, “We nourish the bodies of our children, but how seldom do we nourish their self-esteem?

While we love reading what our members think of the book club selection, we especially love receiving their written work. For many, this may be the first time they have written poetry, so we are grateful for the opportunity to share their work with others. Our magazine also includes prose and longer pieces from our members such as MR’s letter on grieving while behind bars (p. 6). Our magazine also tries to make up for the monotony of incarceration by providing ample photos, graphics, and art. We recognize that many of our members have not seen Washington DC or the outside world in some time, so we include photos of the city taken by volunteers and interns. Similarly, we like to include articles on topics that have been popular in the news–from sports to voting issues. 

Features in the issue include: 

  • A heartfelt article about how one FM member's supportive family helped him through his incarceration (p. 6)
  • An interview with a member of Black Boys OM, a nonprofit using yoga and meditation to improve the wellness of Black men (p. 13)
  • A powerful reflection from FM member Maji about how he persevered after being handed down a life sentence (p. 15) 
  • An interview with FM member JoJo about his transition from being incarcerated to starting a fitness company dedicated to targeting the health and wellness inequalities in DC (p. 16)

When Poetry Behind Bars Reaches the Community

One of the ways we ensure that our members remain connected to the community is by bringing their  poetry and creative writing into schools, workplaces, and community groups. We regularly hold events called “On The Same Page”, where members who are now home share their poetry and the poetry of incarcerated members. Our reentry members, known as Poet Ambassadors, develop their leadership and facilitation skills by engaging in conversation with the audience. One of our most recent events was a poetry reading at a community center in Takoma Park, Maryland, integrating us back into the world of in-person events. 

 At this event, the community listened as Poet Ambassadors read their work along with poetry written by incarcerated members. Listeners provided feedback and asked questions to the Poet Ambassadors. We also presented artwork made by George Washington University students based on the poetry of our incarcerated members. This artwork was created at a past On the Same Page gathering, where typography students created artistic responses to the poems of incarcerated members. Both of these events demonstrated the power of poetry and art to bridge the gap between those who are incarcerated and their communities. 

We also have similar virtual events called Write Night where volunteers from across the globe respond to the poetry written by our incarcerated members. These monthly events often have dozens of volunteers eager to read poetry from incarcerated youth and adults and provide feedback. We then mail the feedback to our members so they are able to see how they have so many people in the community who are engaged in their work and rooting for them. We recognize how crucial it is that those who are incarcerated feel they still have a connection with the outside world and we love using creative work to maintain those connections. 

Made in DC and Making Connections Everywhere

While we enjoy working with those in our local neighborhoods, we are always excited for opportunities to expand our reach to  communities across the country. In April, we embarked on a weekend trip to Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut. Our Poet Ambassadors were able to share about how writing and reading poetry was something that supported them throughout their incarceration. Poet Ambassadors facilitated five sessions where college students responded to poetry from our incarcerated members. Leaning into the magic of in-person programming, Poet Ambassadors were able to have individual conversations with the students, building genuine connections. We left Connecticut knowing that we successfully engaged with a community far from ours, providing a connection and coalition between students and members to reimagine a changed future.  

Thank you for joining us and supporting us over the past few months. We can’t wait to continue building stronger connections with you and the community.

Volunteer feedback on member's poem at Write Night
Volunteer feedback on member's poem at Write Night
Artistic response from GW student to member's poem
Artistic response from GW student to member's poem
Poet Ambassador Gene talks to students
Poet Ambassador Gene talks to students


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Jan 24, 2022
Support Going the Distance

By Justin Schnebelen | Project Intern

Sep 27, 2021
Connecting Through Community

By Sofia Dean | Project Intern

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Organization Information

Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @FreeMindsDC
Project Leader:
Tara Libert
Washington , DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA United States
$35,040 raised of $40,000 goal
1,032 donations
$4,960 to go
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