Author Shaka Senghor visited the DC Jail
Dear Free Minds Friend,
Although the days have been short, we’ve been busy and our members have been reading up a storm! Since our last report, we have mailed approximately 300 books to the incarcerated readers of Free Minds “Books Across the Miles” virtual book club! Our members are incarcerated in different federal facilities across the United States, but they are united by the written word.
“I know I’m a good writer, so that’s what I’m going to focus on for now.”
Our previous “Books Across the Miles” (BAM) title was the riveting memoir Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor, who also visited the teenage Book Club members at the DC Jail to discuss his memoir.
One reader, Everett, wrote this in a letter from federal prison when he heard that Senghor would be visiting the DC Jail:
“That’s great! I wish I was there to meet him. He sounds like a really experienced guy and I’m loving his book so far. Be sure to tell him hello and welcome him to the Free Minds family.”
Everett is not alone! So far, all the responses to Writing My Wrongs have been overwhelmingly positive. The memoir is an account of the choices and circumstances that led a young Mr. Senghor to a jail cell, and the journey of transformation that he went on while spending over four years in solitary confinement.
“I could really relate to what Shaka was saying when he said that we wear masks. He said we are hurting on the inside and it’s true. On the inside I’m a little boy that’s crying. But you won’t see that on the outside. I’m acting like I don’t care. But I’m crying because I’m in pain and I want attention.” – Melvin
“When Shaka said that you have to gain mastery over your thinking? Man, that really sunk in. I know I need that. I react off of my emotions too much. I’m going to work on mastering my thinking!” – Demetri
“I liked what he said about finding out what you’re good at and then focusing on that as your way out. I don’t know what that is for me yet, but I’m working on it. I know I’m a good writer, so that’s what I’m going to focus on for now.” – JoeNathan
“I admired what he did. He’s a cool dude. I mean he did 19 years behind bars and he never gave up. Most of all, he never gave up on himself. That right there is a lesson and an example. He did exactly what he said he was going to do. I want to go to college and I will do everything I can to get there.” – Christopher
“I wanted this book to be 1,000 pages long!”
In December, we sent out the anthology Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, which collects short stories written by authors who are or have been incarcerated. Like with Shaka Senghor’s Writing My Wrongs, our Book Club members are excited to read books from incarcerated voices.
Free Minds member Marquis read the book immediately, and told us about his favorite stories in the anthology: “I felt the story “Shuffle” because I’ve seen first hand 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. Then “Immigrant Song” really hit home. Coming to the jail for the first time is something mind-blowing, especially if you can’t understand the language. Then on top of that a lot of us are ignorant about the law.”
Free Minds members have been broadening their minds with other literature as well. Demetrich, one of the teenagers at the DC Jail, has been raving about the novel Something Like Normal by Trish Doller. Doller’s novel tells the story of a young soldier returning from Afghanistan and healing from trauma.
“I wish these books could all be longer,” Demetrich said. “I wanted this book to be 1,000 pages long! It was just so good I didn’t want it to end. When I started reading it, I knew I was going to be up all night and I was. I started to panic in the morning when I realized this book is about to end!”
“This month’s newsletter made me remember I still have friends.”
An essential part of our Books Across the Miles virtual book club is our bimonthly newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, which we mail out to all of our members incarcerated in prisons and jails across the country.
One young man, Delonte, is in a facility that does not allow him to receive books, but he eagerly reads every issue of the Connect, where he finds his fellow Free Minds members as well as staff and volunteers discussing books, writing, education, politics, and many other topics.
“I wish I could get books here but I can’t. I would have loved to read Writing My Wrongs. I have been struggling on how to do that and now that it’s a New Year I am just trying to put the pain of 2014 behind me…I don’t even know where to start but this month’s newsletter made me remember I still have friends and Will’s poem about his child was great. It made me remember my son and just missing him so much. So I just wanted to say thank you for everything and I do appreciate everything you have done for me.” — Delonte
Marquis also expressed his appreciation for the latest issue of the Connect (titled “Hope”): “I was really stressing and then I got the Connect about Hope. Everything in the Connect I needed to hear. It actually boosted my morale. I appreciated other people showing their struggles and hopes because it helped put my own situation in perspective.”
Our members show us every day how books and writing can bring hope and inspiration, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Thank you for helping us in our mission to empower incarcerated youth through literature and creative expression!
Book Club members read Writing My Wrongs
Next Book Club selection: Prison Noir
The front page of the Free Minds Connect
Books Across the Miles in the Connect