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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
Responses to Enrique's Journey
Responses to Enrique's Journey

Dear Free Minds Friends,

Thanks to your support, Books Across the Miles (BAM!), our ‘virtual book club,’ is about to turn one and is still going strong!  Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop begins in a small room on the juvenile block of the DC Jail, where 16- and 17-year-old boys meet every Thursday to discuss the books they’re reading and to work on their own writing.  Recent book club books include Game Over, 16 on the Block, and Fatherhood.  But when they turn 18, they’re transferred to the adult jail or to federal prisons.  Since DC does not have its own prison, these young men are often sent across the country to institutions where they are far from their families and friends.  At this critical juncture, reading and writing prove to be an invaluable connection to the community.  Through Books Across the Miles, each member receives the same book, along with discussion questions, writing prompts, and responses in our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect.  This allows us to continue nurturing a love of reading and a sense of togetherness even when we are physically separated. 

In our last report, we told you about our BAM! selection Rich Dad Poor Dad.  After the success of Rich Dad Poor Dad, we read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Navarro.  Enrique’s Journey is the true story of a young boy who makes the treacherous journey from his home in Honduras to the United States.   Abandoned by his father, he lived with his mother and his younger sister until she too left him and his sister – she traveled to the U.S. to make a living for her family.  After years of heartbreak and separation, 16-year-old Enrique set out to find her.

We chose this book for Books Across the Miles because it tells the harrowing tale of a journey which many of our Free Minds members have made.  By reading Enrique’s Journey, we hoped to spark a greater understanding and appreciation for other backgrounds and perspectives, and a greater sense of community.  Judging by the responses we’ve received so far, it has been an overwhelming success!

One member, Hernan, wrote in a letter from federal prison, I lived a story just like Enrique’s Journey when I came to the United States.”  He went on to tell of hours spent hiding in a cramped train compartment, and the treacherous dealings with coyotes and traffickers.  At one point, he said, the Mexican coyotes took them out of the train where they had been hiding.  “They took all of our money and they all had AK-47s.”  They raped a young girl in front of her mother and the rest of the travelers.  “I was 8 years old,” he wrote, “and I remember how I trembled in fear.”

Yester wrote to us with a similar story, of how he too traveled to the United States to rejoin his mother, and how he walked for days through the Sonora desert without a guide. 

“Like Enrique, I am also from Honduras, from a city called Siguatepeque, two hours from Tegucigalpa.  When I was 5 years old, my father abandoned my mom, my sister, and I.  The money ran out and we were in need, so my mom decided to go the US.  It was a very sad life and I really wanted to be with my mom.”  When he was 14, he left Honduras to rejoin his mother in the United States.  In his own words, “At one point, we all had to get on the luggage compartment of the bus, more than 20 people, for over an hour, while we were at a checkpoint.  I felt like I was dying from the heat and the poor ventilation, I couldn’t breathe very well and was in great agony…We got to the Sonora desert, which was the place where we had to walk for two days and two nights, but most of the time we walked at night, along with a Mexican guide, whose job was to cross people over from the Mexican side to the US side. The next day we lost him because he used all the money that the coyote had given him to buy a drug named chrystal and he walked too fast until we lost him.  So two days turned into four agonizing hot days where we had to sleep during the day and walk at night.  I was traumatized, I couldn’t sleep, I felt scorpions and snakes walking on me, it was a desperate situation.  We ran out of water twice; the first time, we found a water tank, like for a farm, where there were dead birds and filth, but we needed water, so we drank it.”

But Enrique’s Journey isn’t only for people who have lived through those situations.  Demetrius, an African American Free Minds member who has lived in Washington, D.C. his entire life, aptly proved the power of literature to connect people of different backgrounds, when he wrote this for our newsletter: “I could relate a lot to that book.  I mean I didn’t have to jump no trains and stuff but when I was young I was also separated from my mother.”  Thanks to Books Across the Miles, Demetrius, Yester, and Hernan were able to relate to another’s story, express that through our newsletter, and feel a common bond.

We have just sent out our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect, and are currently preparing for the next book order.  Thanks to your continued support, over 125 young men will receive the book Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler by Azie Faison.  We are all very excited about this new book, which chronicles one man’s motivations and methods for seeking positive change in his life. 

In the meantime, the young men in our book club continue to read and write poetry; you can read some of their poems on the Free Minds Writing Blog.   Take a look, find a poem you like, and write a comment for the poet!  The writers love hearing feedback from the community.  It builds their self-esteem and shows them that their voices are being heard.  Every week, we print out and mail the comments to the incarcerated poets.  Though it takes only a minute to write a comment, it means so much to the poets when they hear from you. 

As always, we are deeply grateful for your generosity and your belief in the power of reading and writing.  As we say to our members, keep your mind free!

Books Across the Miles in the Free Minds Connect
Books Across the Miles in the Free Minds Connect
Free Minds Reentry members mailing the Connect
Free Minds Reentry members mailing the Connect
The Free Minds Connect, ready to be mailed
The Free Minds Connect, ready to be mailed
FM member Dashon previews the next BAM! book
FM member Dashon previews the next BAM! book

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"Free Minds Connect" ready to be mailed
"Free Minds Connect" ready to be mailed

Dear Friends of Free Minds,

Thanks to your support, “Books Across the Miles,”  or “BAM!” continues to be a big hit!  Our “virtual” book club allows us to share books with 125 of our Free Minds members in Continuing Support, young men from DC now incarcerated in federal prisons all over the country.  Because they are far from home, their loved ones are rarely able to visit them and the long-distance book club is one of their only opportunities to really connect to each other and to the outside world.  Through “Books Across the Miles,” these young men can read the books together—even though they’re far apart—and participate in discussions through our newsletter Free Minds Connect.  The newsletter, along with BAM! helps them feel connected and shows them that the outside community has not forgotten about them, a crucial element in promoting positive transformation. 

In our last report, we told you about reading “Ruined,” by Lynn Nottage. After that, we read “The Conversation” by Hill Harper, a powerful book about relationships between men and women. It got an appreciative response from BAM! participants, including one who wrote from Federal Prison in California to say:“I’m reading The Conversation, and it’s just perfect for me!”

One of the goals of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop is for members to be deeply involved with all levels of the organization, and so we are proud that the next selection was chosen a Free Minds member himself. Michael, now home in the community, explains his process:

  "There was a time when I was on the other side of the fence receiving books. The BAM! book that first caught my attention was named "Ruined." It was my first time reading a play so it was very interesting. Reading it took me back to that place where you feel like you’re going on an adventure . That's what made me fall in love with reading in the first place because I was physically incarcerated, but my mind was free as an eagle soaring above. It inspired me so much I wrote a poem called “Ruined,” so I truly understand the power books have. That leads me to now being on the outside getting the opportunity to choose the latest BAM! book which is "Rich Dad Poor Dad." I chose that book because money is something that plays a huge factor in most of our lives. I read that book while I was incarcerated and it totally gave ma new way of dealing with the "Almighty Dollar." I now know the difference between my needs and wants, which most of the time plays a big role in how we value and spend money. I figure why not pass some valuable information to all the Free Minds Members? If a book can give me a better understanding of something I need to maintain and manage, why not send: Books Across Miles?"

    Micheal's choice of valuable information was confirmed by enthusiastic feedback from participants still incarcerated, including one member who wrote, "I love that book.  All I want to read about is how to make money and make money work for you.  It’s very informative.  It gives wisdom and that’s all I want to do is learn so I can get my brain fat.  I need answers.  I must be successful, it’s a fire burning in me."

After the success of “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” we are now getting ready to send out our next BAM! title: “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario.  “Enrique’s Journey” is the true story of a 16-year-old Honduran boy whose mother left him and his little sister for the United States when they were small children.  Her husband had left her, and she felt the United States was her only chance of being able to earn enough money to give her children the life she wanted them to have.  Unfortunately, what she thought would only take a few years stretched into many more.  Enrique finally sets out on a dangerous journey to the United States to find his mother.  We chose this book because some Free Minds members have actually made this journey and have unbelievable tales to tell. By reading “Enrique’s Journey,” we will be able to better understand and appreciate what some people—including some of our friends—have risked to come to this country. One of the most important things is community—and by taking this journey together we know we can strengthen our own community at Free Minds!

We also continue to publish our members’ writing to our writing blog.  Check it out, find a poem you like, and write some feedback!  The new poets love hearing from you.  It builds their self confidence and lets them know that their voices are being heard.  We print out and mail the comments and feedback from the blog to the poets in federal prisons. You’ve heard from them, now let them hear from you!

Thanks again for your belief in the power of reading and writing! We are so grateful for your support.

P.S. To stay current with the work of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, don't forget to like us on facebook!

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FM member Kevin reviewing BAM! responses
FM member Kevin reviewing BAM! responses

Friends of Free Minds,

Thanks to your generosity our new initiative "Books Across the Miles" BAM! has been a great success so far! A "virtual" book club for 125 of our Free Minds members, young men incarcerated in federal prisons scattered throughout the country, can now enjoy reading the same book and engaging in written discussions through  our newsletter Free Minds Connect. Our members tell us that the newsletter is a lifeline for them. It tells them that the outside community cares about what they think and feel and they are not forgotten! It's a vital forum for self expression and learning. They have a voice. Here is an update of what our members have read so far:

  • We shipped our first BAM! selection Ruined, a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage that looks at the atrocities of sexual abuse and rape committed against women by soldiers on both sides of Congo’s civil war without knowing how it would be received. The subject matter was intense and could bring up a lot of painful emotions from our members. This was also the first time most of our members, including Stephen, age 21, had ever experienced reading a play. He wrote to us from a federal prison in Pennsylvania after finishing the play:
     
            I just read “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage, and I can honestly say I just got back on this compound. I was just in that small town in Congo at “Mama Nadi’s” LOL. I really did just zone out because I didn’t put the book down until I finished it. At first I was gonna read a certain amount of pages and call it a night. However, the suspense kept me reading from start to finish.... I [wanted to respond before] coming down from this “high” from having a Free Mind!
     
            Kenneth, Age 24 wrote the following in response to our discussion questions printed in the Connect newsletter.
    I learned that anyone in the path of war can become a victim.  The violence of war alters people’s lives by breaking up their families. I think the play is called “Ruined” because what a woman has is sacred. So once it’s unfitfully taken, a woman may feel “Ruined.”
     
    One of the most powerful responses we received was from JG a member who is serving time for a rape offense. He shared how much the play affected him and allowed him to see sexual violence through the eyes of the victim. He is undergoing sex offender treatment at his facility and shared how transformative reading the play was for his own growth and recovery. We were humbled and awed by the power of reading and writing to heal.
     
    Because Ruined and the female protagonists’ stories in the play had such an impact on our members we decided to expound on the theme of relationships for our next BAM!selection and chose Hill Harper’s book The Conversation: How Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships. Our members had enjoyed Harper’s two other books, Letters To A Young Brother and Letters To A Young Sister and eagerly read his prescription for healthy male and female partnerships. The book sparked an excellent response from our members who mailed us poems, articles and essays on their views on what makes a good relationship whether it’s with your girlfriend or your cellmate.  Darius gave us tips how he handles arguments with his girlfriend and Kevin stressed the importance of finding common ground with your “cellie”.  The interaction our members are able to receive by sharing their writing in the Connect newsletter builds a positive peer network of support that is so vital to their success while incarcerated and when they return home.
  • Receiving the Connect has become a highly anticipated monthly event among Continuing Support Members.  Mike who had been transferred from a Federal Prison in California to one in Pennsylvania wrote to us to make sure we knew he had been moved  “I wanted to let you know that this is the address where I'm at now,” he wrote. “I didn't want to miss the "Free Minds Connect" and the opportunity to write something up from the prompts in it.”  Vincent who is on solitary confinement wrote recently “Getting the Connect always brightens my mood. I can feel the good energy and it makes me feel part of something good.”  BAM! accomplishes the goals of continuing the love of shared reading of the same book first ignited in the Book Club at the jail and strengthening the sense of community among Free Minds members.
    In December we mailed out our third BAM! title Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!  by Robert Kiyosaki. This was at the suggestion of Free Minds member and Reentry Coach Michael who gained many valuable insights about the role of money in his life after reading the book and wanted his fellow Free Minds members to share in that awareness.  The Books Across the Miles BAM! project has strengthened our program on many levels and we are truly grateful for all our wonderful supporters who've allowed us to bring the power of reading and writing to our members.
  • We also publish our members' writing to our writing blog. Check it out and provide feedback. The new poets love it! It boosts their self confidence as writers and lets them know that their voice matters.We then print out and mail out the comments and feedback from the blog to each federal prison. Our members all tell us they look forward to this wonderful connection to the outside world.
  • We added another initiative because we receive so many poems and articles from our members that we needed another forum to provide feedback. We started "Write Night" which allows volunteers to gather together in one place and provide hand written feedback for our members. They comment directly on printouts of the poems. We send our members the feedback from these events for inspiration for their next poems. If you are in the Washington DC metro area contact us and we'll invite you to the next "Write Night" We'd love to have you!

Thanks again for your belief in the power of books and writing!

The "Connect" ready to be sent out to FM members!
The "Connect" ready to be sent out to FM members!
FM volunteers commented on poetry at Write Night
FM volunteers commented on poetry at Write Night
FM members work on BAM! responses at the office
FM members work on BAM! responses at the office

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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
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