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!
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