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Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison

by Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison
DA's mother shows off her son's Scholastic Award
DA's mother shows off her son's Scholastic Award

A few weeks ago, we received a letter from Free Minds member RG, who wrote, "This is the network system I never dreamed of. This is growth for me. You guys are my start to become the man I wish to be for my community. Sorry if I sound so emotional when I write, but this is what comes out from my heart. I want to give back."

Like many of our Free Minds members, RG credits books, writing, and letters for pushing him in the right direction. From live discussions with authors at the DC Jail to connecting over a graphic novel about the Civil Rights Movement, we are so grateful for the power of reading and writing to change lives.

 

Author Visits at the Book Club

In the last few months, we've had not one but three exciting events at the Book Club!

Earlier this February, Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis and his co-author Andrew Aydin visited the juvenile unit at the jail to share their graphic novel March: Book One and Congressman Lewis's extraordinary tale of courage and nonviolence. Congressman Lewis is the only surviving member of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and the only living speaker from the famous 1963 March on Washington. The Book Club members listened intently and asked questions about coping with fear, anger, and grief. They presented Congressman Lewis with a poem they had written as a group, titled "Free Minds March." The Book Club members were deeply moved by his message of hope and nonviolence. One Book Club member, DeAngelo, described the visit as "life-changing." This event was covered by The Washington Post, Yahoo News, and ABC7/WJLA-TVRead more on our website. 

We also welcomed author and TV writer/producer George Pelecanos (The Cut, The Martini Shot, HBO's The Wire) and filmmaker Stephen Kinigopoulos to the Book Club to screen their short film based on one of Pelecanos's stories, The Confidential Informant. The teens read the short story, and they came prepared with many questions about adapting the text into a film and about the complex relationship between father and son portrayed in The Confidential Informant. Read more on our website.

Finally, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, co-authors of the award-winning young adult novel All American Boys, visited the Book Club to discuss their book about two teenagers whose lives are irrevocably altered by systemic racism and police brutality. The novel won the 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award as well as the inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award from We Need Diverse Books. Executive Director Tara Libert said, "We are so grateful for the authors not only for the amazing book and incredible discussion that it generated, but also for exemplifying hope through their personal friendship. It was very meaningful for the teenagers in the Book Club to see two people who were able to bridge the racial divide; for them to see in person, rather than just reading about it, the importance of respecting different experiences and perspectives. Jason and Brendan are two incredible people for embarking on this book project that sparked an empowering and enlightening discussion. They are also leading by example through their own friendship and fearlessness in talking about issues among themselves, demonstrating the kind of courage and compassion that we as a society can aspire to in order to bring about healing." Read more on our website.

 

Marching for Justice
The teenagers in the Book Club at the DC Jail are not the only ones learning about Congressman Lewis's incredible life! This month, the Free Minds members in federal prisons across the United States are reading March: Book One in our correspondence-based book club, Books Across the Miles, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive:

I’m just writing to say thank you for the books you’ve sent. I really enjoyed the “March 1 & 2” comic. They were amazing and truly depict how far we have come as a people. It was very inspiring to say the least.

-LW

I received March “Book One” and I enjoyed every last word and page in the book. I was really excited to learn about John Lewis and the revolutionary change he sought for himself and others. I learned a great way to love people and forgive my enemies is by non-violence. I feel that nonviolence is a silent force capable of putting the devil at peace with you. I hope that March reaches across this country and touches the coldest hearts out there.

-BH

One of my cellmates is reading it now.  I can see the whole unit reading this by the time I’m done passing it around. I just gave it to my friend this morning & he read it in less than 2 hours.

-Ronald

I just wanted to let you know I got the comic book, and although I generally couldn't care less for comics, I took the time to read it, because one you all sent it to me, and two, it must be important if it was a gift from Free Minds.  What a blessing. You opened up my eyes to what African Americans went through back in the day.  I don't study up on history, well I didn't use to, but now I think I will.  See as a white man, I wasn't really interested in what happened to African Americans back in the day.  I wasn't racist, in fact, I have more African American friends than white, but for some reason I was never really ever interested in what African Americans had to go through.  This book opened up my eyes, I now want to learn more.  I couldn't believe one book could have me to open up this way.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you!!!

-DK

The "Books Across the Miles" readers are also reading books of their own choosing or books that were personally selected for them by our staff. Halim wrote to us a few days ago to tell us how much he loved Flight by Sherman Alexie:

"I read it in one night, couldn't put it down...It was GREAT and it addressed youth violence in a perfect way. Thanks again for everything, for investing in me, in us, the Lost Children of DC!"

 

Write Night Poetry Feedback

This spring, we have hosted several On the Same Page: Write Nights and Write Lunches across the DMV area. Volunteers of all ages and walks of life have come out, rain or shine, to provide feedback on our members’ poetry. Once the poems are filled with comments, we send the colorful pages back to each author. Our members are consistently amazed by the outpouring of community support, and the fact that people are taking the time out of their busy days to respond to their poetry:

"I never imagined using this medium to share my feelings and thoughts with people I've never met, then to feel such a connection with them thru their feedback! WOW!" -MH

“Really you guys were the ones who unlocked this hidden talent.  If it weren't for you I don't think I would enjoy writing as much as I do.  You guys gave me another way to express myself that allows me to connect with others.”  -IS

 

The Free Minds Connect: “Keeping our Minds and Hearts Open to All Possibilities”

For our January/February issue of the Free Minds: Connect, our members focused on the theme of resolutions and transformation. In preparation for the publication, the entire Free Minds family reflected on our own personal goals, from reading more books, to living every day to the fullest, and focusing on music and poetry. JG, a regular columnist, shared how he is resolving to be grateful, graceful, and content while striving toward his goals:

[By expressing gratitude] we keep our minds and hearts open to all possibilities, allowing our desires to flow smoothly into our lives unhindered. The past is done, and the future is not promised, so why not cherish the present? ...In my humble opinion, by doing this we can accept our current situation for whatever it may be at the moment, while still moving forward.

-JG

A few pages later, a Reentry Profile of Free Minds member Stephen featured his resolution to obtain his education. Stephen is currently a sophomore at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), and is committed to becoming a Civil Engineer:

My dream is to build one of those buildings that stretches over top of a road or tunnel, like the one in downtown DC near the entrance to 395…. The hardest part about being a full-time student is staying committed to it and actually doing the work. It’s not easy but it will be worth it. - Stephen

Our next issue, called “We Can Be The Change,” just went out this past week to over 300 young men and women in jails and prisons across the country. We can’t wait to read what our members think of it!

 

Free Minds Poets Honored at Scholastic Writing Awards

This year, two Free Minds members, DA and DJ, were honored at the DC Regional Scholastic Writing Awards. DJ won the Gold Key (the highest award!) for his poem, "Paradise," as well as an Honorable Mention for "Moment of Truth," and DA won an Honorable Mention for his poem "Gunfire." Neither of the poets had written a poem before joining Free Minds. Free Minds Poet Ambassador Kalef accepted the awards on their behalf as both writers are currently incarcerated. DA's mother attended the award ceremony and told us how proud she was of her son for expressing himself positively through poetry. Both young poets, although they could not be there in person, were thrilled when they heard that they had won. This recognition from the Scholastic Writing Awards represents more than just a certificate; it represents a warm welcome into a nation-wide community of writers.

Every time you donate, you are giving a young man in our program a second chance at life. Thank you for being the support and encouragement our members need and deserve in order to achieve their true potential and transform our communities for the better. We couldn’t do this work without you! 

John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with Free Minds Team
John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with Free Minds Team
Free Minds members read March: Book One
Free Minds members read March: Book One
The Free Minds Connect newsletter
The Free Minds Connect newsletter
LW writes from federal prison
LW writes from federal prison

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FM members Juan and Phil with the literary journal
FM members Juan and Phil with the literary journal

As we reflect back on 2015 and cast vision for 2016, we have much to celebrate and much to continue to strive for. From seeing young men go from disengaged learners to articulate poets and celebrating their voices in our literary journal The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison, we are encouraged by the renewing power of reading and writing to change lives.

 

When Justice and Mercy Meet

This past month, our members have been reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Founder of Equal justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system, Stevenson writes about his work as a lawyer for people on death row in Alabama. The book details his varied experience with the criminal justice system, specifically focusing on the story of a man named Walter McMillan who spent decades on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Though it was at times painful to read for many of our members who have experienced similar situations, they poured out accolades for Just Mercy:

“I thought it was insightful and taught me about the inequality of justice in America throughout history. I identified with the section about the children being sentenced to life in prison being as though I came in as a juvenile. Even though I wasn’t given a life sentence and got 24 years, I feel as though 24 years is more than a lifetime especially for a juvenile.

"A quote out the book that I believe is true is: ‘The power of mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent, strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.’

"What I think this quote mean is that everybody is deserving of mercy, even those who don’t think they deserve it.”-DJ

“It’s a really intense book but I love how it keeps me wondering about a lot of things.” -LB

“Hands down, Just Mercy is a very moving book. Reading this book, I found myself moved to frustration. There were too many parts where I fully understood the pain expressed, especially the part where he was having such a peaceful moment only to be interrupted by the police pointing guns at him. This book was a sorrowful reminder of America’s problem with the minorities and poor. Just Mercy painted a vivid picture for all to see America’s corrupt legal system. Besides that, Mr. Stevenson should be congratulated for all his efforts and I can say that I admire his courage. This book is a must read and belongs in every library.” -MH

“That Just Mercy book was so uplifting in many ways.” -DW

 

10,000 Journals for Hope

In October, we launched our newest literary journal, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison with a celebration and poetry reading. At the end of the night, we announced our 10,000 Journals For Hope campaign. We are committed to sharing the untold stories of incarcerated youth and the stories of hope, success, and second chances. We decided to raise funds to send 10,000 copies of our literary journal to disconnected youths in juvenile detention centers, solitary confinement, and schools across the country. Reading stories of success from youth home from prison and overcoming the odds can bring hope and inspiration to these young people.

We were overjoyed at the response to this campaign. So far, we have raised over 90% of our goal (9,000 journals), and have already started distributing the journals. Young inmates in federal prison have written to us to share their responses to the stories and poems in the journal:

"Again, thanks a lot for letting me be part of y'all family. And as far as the poems, I didn't have just one favorite and that's being honest. I really loved the book as a whole and the creativity plus the way the guys got a chance to express their inner feelings through words. Every soulja has a story to tell. So I've sent 2 of my own poems for you to check out. Until next time, thanks again." -CM

"I love our new book. I'm so proud of everyone in Free Minds. This movement is really life changing and I'm living testimony to that. That was a great idea too to have the pictures and something on the guys in the book. I also loved the fact that Charlie was the first one with that big smile. I miss that guy there. And you know if it's any way I can help, I'm all for it. A book dedicated to just a glimpse into our stories is a hit. It is only right that we get full exposure into the whole aspect of our lives instead of just a crime. One major benefit from being in the program is the positive effect the written word has so a book of our stories, good or bad is a very good read. Especially for an audience that would get a different glimpse into incarcerated youth..." - MH

“I promise … that I won't let no one ever take my voice. As long as I have a pen in my hand, I will write. I understand full now what you was trying to get me to see back when I was younger.” -AH

When writing back to our members about the literary journal, we asked what we should tell people if they were considering donating books to go inside prisons, and received these responses:

"Tell them that the contribution they made is a contribution into the future of a young man who finally figured out that he was too valuable to be forgotten." -DH

"By buying and giving the books to us, people out there are giving the hapless hope, they are making human beings who feel abandoned feel like someone still knows they are here." - RD

Though we still have a little ways to go, we can’t wait to distribute the rest of the 10,000 journals and watch the hope continue to spread among these incredible young people.

 

The Free Minds Newsletter: Family Edition

Our members often describe Free Minds as a family, so we decided to use that as the theme for the November/December edition of our monthly newsletter, the Free Minds Connect. Featuring a black and white collage of various family photos on the cover, the articles inside told the untold stories of family, including an adoption story, an interview with a member and his 21-year-old daughter, and an account of a mother’s journey from El Salvador to the USA 20 years ago. In addition to our regular columns, the Connect also features recent poems written by our members. One member, TSD, had this to say about seeing his poems in the newsletter:

“I have really been enjoying the poems, events and life stories of others, that you have allowed me to share in through your newsletter. Thank you. The newsletter is very informative and a great outlet for those of us, that feel voiceless and abandoned behind these walls. I am shocked and happy at the same time, right now. Why? Because I didn't know that you would be sharing my poems with others during one of your sessions. Smile. Now! I am all excited, smiling and waiting patiently, but anxiously, to see what your guest had to say about my poems. I am really pleased to hear that they liked what I wrote, because it is really hard in prison to get an honest opinion on anything that is remotely positive. Thank you again for sharing my poems with others and for making my night!“ -TSD

Our next issue of the Free Minds Connect, will focus on resolutions. Titled “I Resolve,” we have asked our members to consider why people make resolutions in the first place, and what changes they would like to make in their own lives in their entries for the newsletter. As a result, the Free Minds staff has been wrestling with the same questions, and coming up with our own goals and plans for success!

We are grateful for the opportunity to encourage each other in becoming our best selves, and to keep ourselves and each other accountable through writing and bringing these goals into reality.

 

Marching to the Beat of Justice

Our next Books Across the Miles (BAM!)  book will be the graphic novel March: Book One by Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. As part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Lewis’s work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an inspiration to our members. March is a graphic novel about the events in his life that led him to joining the Civil Rights Movement. We are looking forward to our members’ responses about this book and the pictures that tell such an important story.

As we start this new year, we can’t help but reflect on the power your generosity and support has already had in our members’ lives. We couldn’t do it without you! Thank you again for believing in the power of books and writing, and for continuing to spread hope in the darkest places.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect
Our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect
March: Book One by John Lewis
March: Book One by John Lewis
Free Minds member Michael signs journals
Free Minds member Michael signs journals
Launching the Untold Story of the Real Me
Launching the Untold Story of the Real Me

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Free Minds Poet Ambassador at Write Night
Free Minds Poet Ambassador at Write Night

Since our last report, we have become much more familiar faces at our local US Post Office. Last week, we mailed approximately 300 copies of our brand new literary journal, “The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices From Prison.” A collection of poetry written by young men charged and incarcerated as adults in DC while under the age of 18, this anthology covers a broad range of topics, including race, family, education, and love, and freedom. It also features individual profiles of 15 of our members, who have completed their sentences and have since returned to the community (Find out more about the journal here). Although each untold story is unique, one common theme is the transformative power of reading and writing in the lives of these young men.

“A Smash Hit”

This past month, our members have been reading Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore, a novel by Walter Mosley about a black porn star who finds her husband dead in a hot tub with another woman. With his Jewish and black heritage, the Californian-born author has a unique perspective on the racial inequalities in the US, about which he is quite outspoken. In this particular novel, Mosley explores the tensions of race, gender, sexuality, loss, and money as Debbie decides to leave the porn industry for good and put the pieces of her life back together, alone and in debt.

Although the portrait of an exploited and defeated spirit fighting to survive was on the heavier side, Free Minds members were transfixed by Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore:

“Thanks for the new BAM! books. I didn’t think every one was going to be like a smash hit, to the point I can’t put it down and I read it in a day or so… [Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore] was good, a lil wild at times but raw at the most... Debbie was really from the streets, her whole MO was cold. Nice but cold. I mean when you’re in the streets or have come from the streets you learn to never really show your feelings. To show feelings makes you weak, makes you the prey they soon to be eating. She has a lot going on… She sad, lonely, overworked, I mean she going through life. I know it seems sad or crazy but this is the life of more than half of colored people in the US. Not all of us will have a helping hand and it’s going to be way harder without it. But killing yourself will never be the answer to whatever you’re looking for. Live life, love life, and try to see it to the end. God put us here for that reason, at least give him that much respect. Good book, I liked it. I read it in 3 days.” -SJ

“Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore is a good book to read. Why? Because it shows you life’s challenges in your life, my life, and Debbie’s. Next time if you feel like doing something dumb or putting yourself in harm’s way, think about the book you have read. -MH

“It has a lot of powerful acts and ways to help a person who lived a messy life to look at things in another light. I also got from the book is that when you want to change your life from one that you are used to living it just can’t happen overnight and you also need your friends, family, and loved ones to help.” -DM

 

The Free Minds Connect: Moving Forward

In September, we mailed out another issue of our bimonthly newsletter, which focused on the theme “Moving Forward.” Free Minds member JG, who writes a regular column for the Connect, talked about how moving forward reminds him of flowing water:

“Water, when in its natural state, is always fluid, flowing, never stagnant...When we focus on our goals and what we want, always looking at the glass as half full, we’ll always remain in a state of forward motion.” - JG

The mother of one of our Free Minds members who is in federal prison wrote a column about how she copes with her son’s incarceration:

“I went to therapy which really helped me...Every time I left her office I felt so relieved and happier...I’ve always been a happy person but the therapy really helped. I would definitely recommend it to other moms out there.” - CW

Other columns included a piece entitled “Forgiveness,” written by a black pastor in DC about the shooting in Charleston, NC, as well as a brand new legal advice column called “The Legal Pad.” We also included Part One of a story written by a returning citizen from Portland, Oregon, who talks about growing up amidst drugs, addiction, and abuse:

“...Each morning, I had to fend for myself, because everyone was asleep from partying… Both of my parents and all of my uncles (except for one that had had been shot and became a paraplegic) were in the federal pen... It wasn’t a hard decision for a kid with no positive male figure in his life being raised by the realities of his environment. Just like that I gave up what I loved for a life of pain. Yet the crazy thing about “gang culture” is that it will make you believe pain is love if you have never felt loved.”-LA

Our next issue of the Free Minds: Connect, will focus on Family, both biological and those who have earned that place in our lives. Poems around the topic have already arrived at the office, and we can’t wait to read even more about how our members continue to create family wherever they are.

 

Write Night Is Back In Session!

In September, we had Write Night at Seekers in Takoma Park, Maryland, with a huge turn out! When asked how many were there for the first time, half of the room raised their hands! At least a third of the room also responded favorably when asked if they wrote poems themselves. By the end of the night, our volunteers wrote encouraging comments and notes on over 30 different poems, which we will mail to each of the authors. It is moments like these that continue to remind us of the power of poetry to build bridges between people behind bars and individuals on the outside.

We were also excited to welcome a film team from Sojourners Magazine, who featured Free Minds in their September/October issue. See the video of our Poet Ambassadors sharing their stories at Write Night here.

 

A Story of Justice and Redemption

Next month, every Books Across the Miles Book club member will receive a copy of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Arguably one of the most important defense attorneys and civil rights leaders of our time, Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initative (EJI), a non-profit organization dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system and defending poor people who have been denied effective representation.  To date, the organization has prevented 115 men from being executed on death row.

This book, perhaps more challenging than comforting, tells about one of Stevenson’s first cases defending Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a murder he didn't commit. We are eagerly anticipating our members’ reactions to this important and inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.

As we continue to expand and improve our programs, we want to extend a special thank you to all of you who have contributed to our success. Thanks to your support, more incarcerated youth are sharing their stories and writing new chapters in their lives.

The cover of our latest literary journal
The cover of our latest literary journal
Our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect
Our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect
The Books Across the Miles page in our newsletter
The Books Across the Miles page in our newsletter
Our next Book Club selection
Our next Book Club selection

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If You Can See It, You Can Be It by Jeff Henderson
If You Can See It, You Can Be It by Jeff Henderson

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!

FM member David with Diego, FM dog, in the office
FM member David with Diego, FM dog, in the office
Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley
Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley
The Learning issue of the Connect
The Learning issue of the Connect
The Books Across the Miles update in the Connect
The Books Across the Miles update in the Connect

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Just a few of the books our readers have loved!
Just a few of the books our readers have loved!

When we sent our last report, the young readers of Free Minds were just receiving their copies of the Books Across the Miles (BAM!) book club selection, Prison Noir, an anthology of stories by incarcerated or formerly incarcerated authors. Now the responses are in:

“It was nice to read and a lot of the stories, I have some just like them that I would like to use to help keep the kids off the streets when I come back home.” – DeAngelo

“Thanks for Prison Noir. I loved it!” – Muquan

Several Free Minds members told us that it wasn’t their favorite BAM! book because it felt too real, and they didn’t want to read about prison.

“On the book Prison Noir, I did not enjoy this book because it really showed some of the ugly faces of incarceration,” Marquis wrote. He went on, “I felt the story “Shuffle” because I’ve seen firsthand how jail can mentally mess you up. I understood “Tune-Up” because when you do things in here that you love, while you’re doing them, you feel like you’re not locked up.”

The next BAM! selection is If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success by Chef Jeff Henderson, whose previous book, Cooked, has been a long-time favorite of our readers. That’s going out next month, and we’ll let you know how they like it!

In the meantime, Free Minds members are reading up a storm:

“Thanks for the books. I’m on lockdown 23 hours a day so all I do is read. If it’s not too much trouble, can I get a few more books? I’m looking forward to the new Connect [newsletter] too. I love it and can’t wait to read it.” – Wayne

“I’ve started the book The Maze Runner and it’s very interesting. I can’t wait to see how it ends. I want to thank you for all the books I have received from you guys. It really means a lot to see how the staff at Free Minds cares about its members.” – Aaron

“You all do not know how much you are helping us out. You all helped me at first when I did not even want help. Thank you for saving a soul that could have been lost. The books you send me show me another world and make me look forward to living a good life when I come home. You changed my way of thinking.” - DeAngelo

Our Free Minds poets are showing off their new writing skills. Volunteers at our Write Night events continue to inspire with their wonderful feedback. Five Free Minds members were published in Tacenda Literary Magazine from American University’s BleakHouse Publishing. Keep an eye out for our own literary journal, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison, which we’ll be publishing in May.

Thank you once again for making our work possible.

“You know I’ve been meaning to thank all you guys at Free Minds for allowing me to be a part of the Book Club. I once read that if everybody in China jumped at the same time they could shake the world off its axis. It would be an overstatement to say the same about you guys, but I’m sure people would feel movement. You know, it was through you guys I learned writing was a way to calm my inner self. What I appreciate most though is how you guys have always been there encouraging me to keep writing…One of the greatest ideas you guys had was the public reading our poems (Write Night). I like the comments people leave. It gives me that extra push to keep writing!” - Doug

Gerald with his favorite books: Harry Potter!
Gerald with his favorite books: Harry Potter!
Books Across the Miles book: Prison Noir
Books Across the Miles book: Prison Noir
Birthday cards for our BAM readers
Birthday cards for our BAM readers
We send postcards to our members with Flikshop!
We send postcards to our members with Flikshop!
Volunteers decorated this poem with comments
Volunteers decorated this poem with comments

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Organization Information

Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @FreeMindsDC
Project Leader:
Tara Libert
Washington, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA United States
$25,111 raised of $30,000 goal
 
680 donations
$4,889 to go
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