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 18, 2020
Unwavering Support

By Neely Wester | Program Associate

"Ladder of Hope" by FM Member SK
"Ladder of Hope" by FM Member SK

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the members of our Prison Book Club, but thanks to you, we have been there with unwavering support. In response to the public health crisis, all federal prison facilities are currently on lockdown, meaning our members who are already hundreds of miles from home, are now locked in their cells for 22-24 hours per day, with only brief windows of time each week to call their loved ones, exercise, or even take a shower. Members have been writing to us with messages of fear and worry over their forced isolation in environments that already lack access to proper health and sanitary conditions. We are stepping up our services to help our members cope with this stress and trauma, and continue to access educational materials. We cannot thank you enough for supporting us during this crisis. Your generosity reminds us that times of uncertainty are times when we must all come together as a community!

We knew we needed to act quickly to ensure uninterrupted support for our members. We immediately moved our volunteer work online and knew our dedicated corps of volunteers would respond. They did not disappoint. We have been thrilled with the response from our community! Volunteers are writing letters to our members in our weekly Letter Writers Circle via Zoom, typing poems written by our members, and creating “lockdown” worksheets with puzzles, brain teasers, and writing prompts to help keep their minds active and free during quarantine. Our monthly Write Night has also gone virtual and attracted hundreds of new volunteers from across the globe! This is a special opportunity where volunteers provide feedback on poetry from our members, which is then mailed to our members in over 100 federal prisons across the country. The public is keenly aware of what incarcerated individuals are enduring in the coronavirus hotspot that is prison, and traffic has been enormous on our poetry blog where the community can post encouraging comments on our members’ poetry.

Thanks to your support, our community has been a ray of hope for our members! The appreciation from our members has been pouring in. What we call “attitudes of gratitude” letters have been nonstop.

“Thanks so much for everything: the books, the letters, the birthday cards, and most of all the feeling of family and support. I really thank you guys because just when it felt like I had nobody and I felt like giving up, you guys came through and let me know someone's there and they care. Thank you guys." - Free Minds member Demitrich

“Free Minds is a special program and helps a lot of us in here. Knowing somebody is willing to support me is something big for me. You can turn a negative to a positive. I'll show FMBC how bright I can get. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts." - Free Minds member Joshua

"I wanted to say thank all of you for everything that you do for all of us. See I learned wealth isn't all about money, it's about time. And we constantly forget that. You guys put so, so, so much time in us, you actually believe in us. You've helped change me to the man I am today, and writer I am today. I want each and every one of yall to hug each other and just drop a tear because teamwork makes the dream work." - Free Minds member Taurus

Connect: Remembrance 

As we entered into Spring, a time of new life, our members suggested we dedicate an issue of our newsletter to all our loved ones who we have lost, but who are living on in our hearts. In our latest issue of the Connect, Free Minds members, staff, and friends reflect on different pathways of remembrance and ways of celebrating the lives of our dear ones. The timing between the vibrant colors of Spring and our latest issue was also perfect, as we debuted our new redesign complete in full color.

In this vibrant and touching celebration of life and remembrance, stories include:

  • FM friend and therapist Edward’s guidance on how we can come to terms with our own grief and different ways we can honor loved ones who have died (p.6)
  • A touching tribute to Joshua, FM Congressman John Lewis Fellow who passed away last September, written by FM member Arthur (p. 23)
  • How FM member Luis, who was deported after his release, has adjusted to his new life and remembers his real home, D.C. (p.9)
  • Co-founder and Executive Director Tara's nephew, Jeffrey, shares how he overcame the obstacles of being blind in order to obtain his master's degree and become a youth counselor (p. 20)

Books Across the Miles: Man’s Search for Meaning

The latest Books Across the Miles book voted on by our members has been a huge hit! Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is the real-life story of survival and finding purpose. A survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl believed that we cannot escape suffering but we can decide how we cope and use that suffering to find and pursue our meaning in life. Our members have found Frankl’s memoir both relatable and encouraging, inspiring them to reflect on their own meaning in life. Here is what some members had to say:

“I just started reading Man’s Search for Meaning. It is really powerful and taught me a lot about life. I can’t put it down for anything, I really do love this book.” - RC

“I think Frankl’s experience in concentration camps could be compared to incarceration in the United States. Although Frankl had a harsher experience, it is similar in ways. Concentration camps, prisons, and the likes could cause a mental death to the incarcerated. The cruel and unusual punishment that is endured could lead to mental health issues - anxiety, depression, stress, etc. It is different today because prison has better food and living conditions. We are not forced to work under inhumane circumstances. There are life sentences but we know our fate - they didn’t know theirs.” - SM

“For me, the meaning of life is to be a good person and a good human being. This can be interpreted in many ways but for me it is about leaving something better than you found it. Whether that something is a relationship, place, situation, or person.” - JL

“One step is for us as a people is to open our eyes and realize, not look, but realize that meaning is there for everyone.” - LA

Do you have your own thoughts about Man’s Search for Meaning and want to read more about what members had to say? You can follow along with the discussion in the Connect!

Thank you for sustaining our community of support during these times. Like our community is to our members, so you are a ray of hope to us!

The new design for the Free Minds Connect
The new design for the Free Minds Connect
Artwork by FM member RW
Artwork by FM member RW
Letters from FM members in prison
Letters from FM members in prison


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Jan 14, 2020
Stories of Hope and Forgiveness

By Neely Wester | Program Associate

Oct 18, 2019
"I look forward to my books, postcards, and letters from you guys."

By Crystal Iwuoha | Communications and Community Engagement Specialist

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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
$34,990 raised of $40,000 goal
1,030 donations
$5,010 to go
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