Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison

by Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
Jan 16, 2014

Something like Superheroes

Hill Harper after visiting the DC Jail Book Club
Hill Harper after visiting the DC Jail Book Club

Dear Free Minds Friends,

Happy New Year from Free Minds! We have big plans for 2014, and can’t wait to continue our life-changing work of bringing books and writing to DC’s incarcerated youth. Our latest Books Across the Miles! (BAM!) “virtual book club” selection was The Pact by Sampson Davis, George Davis, and Rameck Hunt with Lisa Frazier Page. The book tells the true story of three young men who grew up in the streets of Newark and made a promise to each other that they would beat the odds and all become doctors. The book was a big hit with our book club members in federal prison! Here’s what some of them had to say:  

“I like how they had each other’s backs. Wish I had some homies like that to go through life with.” –Robert

“The book was good! They all went through the same thing so they knew how to overcome obstacles. It made me want to go to college even more when I get home.” –Luis

In addition to the success of our BAM! reading initiative, we’ve been very busy introducing new and exciting programs to keep Free Minds members engaged and on a positive path toward change. Here are some of the highlights:

Famous Author and Actor Visits Jail

This past November, Free Minds Book Club welcomed a very special guest to our regular book club session at the juvenile block of the DC Jail: Hill Harper. Most well-known for his film career and role in the CBS crime drama CSI: NY, Harper is also the author of many successful books, including a Free Minds Books Across the Miles! Favorite, The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place. Harper’s most recent book, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones, offers words of advice and support to inmates and their families. During his visit to the jail, Harper shared his own life stories and encouraged the young poets in the Book Club to become architects of their own lives, rather than allowing their lives to simply happen to them. Throughout the whole session, Harper stressed the importance of reading and education. He said:

"Do you know why I'm successful?  I'm successful because I got my education.  That is the number one reason."  

17-year-old Muquan was particularly impacted by the book Letters to an Incarcerated Brother and the visit from Hill Harper. He told us:

“That book tells it like it is. It’s a lot of good advice in there to help me better myself and my life. And now that I met [Harper], I know he’s for real.”

A Small Note with a Huge Impact

When Free Minds members turn 18, they are often shipped to federal prisons across the country. Far from their families and home community, many of our members express feeling deep loneliness and isolation. Here at Free Minds, we know first-hand the impact that regular and reliable contact can have on incarcerated youth and their chances of future success. That’s why we are teaming up with Flikshop, an innovative mobile app that allows individuals to send postcards to incarcerated loved ones directly from their phones. Flikshop founder Marcus Bullock is a Free Minds member who spent several years of his youth behind bars; while incarcerated, he and his co-defendants promised each other they would each be successful in their chosen field. So far they have all kept their promise! Through our Flikshop partnership, Free Minds will be able to send all of our incarcerated members high-quality postcards every other month in addition to our regular communication. As Marcus Bullock explains:

“We at Flikshop have fully committed ourselves to bridging the communication gap between inmates and the communities they left behind when they were incarcerated. If we can help support them when they are inside, it makes it that much easier for organizations like Free Minds Book Club to foster support for inmates when they reenter the community.”

Free Minds member Joe, who is currently incarcerated in North Carolina, wrote to us recently to share how Free Minds support has helped him through his incarceration period:

 “During the time I been in you guys was always there for me. I always receive books, letters, and birthday cards. You guys are awesome—something like superheroes, always there to save the day when I’m down.”

Windows from Prison

This fall, Free Minds members had the unique opportunity to participate in a collaborative community art project organized by local artist Mark Strandquist. The project invited prisoners from DC to answer a simple question: If you had a window in your cell, what place from your past would you want it to look out to? The written responses to this question were then handed over to local photography students, who took pictures of the requested locations and sent them back to the inmates. Both the photographs and the writings will be used in a public art exhibit that will give the general public a “window” into the hopes, desires, struggles, and histories of inmates. Here is an excerpt from Free Minds member Gary’s essay:

“6702 Hamilton Street…This place reminds me of my early childhood. My father would take me to football practice. Whenever I wasn’t at football practice, my friends and I would play football in the street, or tag. If I could see anything out my window, I would choose this. It reminds me about the days I would have to come home from school and do my homework before coming outside, before I grew up and started getting into trouble. I remember those days like it was yesterday.”

As Free Minds member Juan puts it:

“I believe that we all learn a lot from each other and Free Minds has helped us find and explore hidden talents that we never knew we had. You all helped us develop a voice and also helped us be heard. And I applaud and appreciate Free Minds for that.”

From all of us at Free Minds, thank you for helping us give incarcerated youth a voice. 

Until next time,

Sarah Mintz
Program Coordinator

FM Member Gary
FM Member Gary's "Windows from Prison" Photograph
Our most recent BAM! Book, The Pact
Our most recent BAM! Book, The Pact
Write Night volunteers commenting on member poems
Write Night volunteers commenting on member poems
FM Member Muquan
FM Member Muquan's "Windows from Prison" Photo
Our first Flikshop postcard to Free Minds members!
Our first Flikshop postcard to Free Minds members!



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Organization Information

Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Tara Libert
Washington, District of Columbia United States

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