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Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth

by Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth
James (center) at the Reentry Recognition Ceremony
James (center) at the Reentry Recognition Ceremony

Thanks to your generosity, together we are helping young men home from prison transform their lives. In July, we held a very special Reentry Recognition Ceremony. We honored our participants in our Reentry Book Club and Job Readiness Apprenticeship, and celebrated alongside our members’ family, friends, and supporters. The evening was filled with joy, pride, and even an impromptu musical break courtesy of Free Minds member Mark. Thank you for making this possible!

This summer, Free Minds members have been working hard and making great strides in their journeys of change. 32 formerly incarcerated Free Minds members have participated in our weekly Reentry Book Club and Job Readiness Workshops, including sessions on topics such as legal rights, mindfulness, substance abuse, co-parenting, success on the job, public speaking, action plans, learning from mistakes, storytelling, entrepreneurship, and more. In the Reentry Book Club sessions, they have been writing and sharing poetry, reading and discussing the memoir The Cook Up by D. Watkins, and building a positive, trusting community.

National Criminal Justice Association Award

In August, Free Minds was thrilled to receive the National Criminal Justice Association’s Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award for the Northeast Region. Our Executive Director Tara Libert accepted this award on behalf of the entire Free Minds Family at NCJA's National Forum in Long Beach, California. Thank you to the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) for this incredible recognition, DC Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants for their wonderful guidance and for presenting the award, and to all of our supporters for helping us get here.

Free Minds Members Reaching New Heights

This summer, Free Minds member and Poet Ambassador Terrell traveled to the Freedom Writers Institute in Long Beach, California, to participate in a 5-day training program for educators and others who work with vulnerable youth. Terrell applies the strategies gained from this experience in his work as a Poet Ambassador, mentoring middle and high school students in D.C.

Free Minds member Roderick graduated from the DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program, and was featured in the Washington City Paper. He is now working full-time in a restaurant. Well done, Roderick!

Aaron and Lorenzo graduated from high school in June, and are now preparing to enter the workforce. Congratulations Aaron and Lorenzo!

FM members celebrate at the Recognition Ceremony
FM members celebrate at the Recognition Ceremony
Practicing pitches in an entrepreneurship workshop
Practicing pitches in an entrepreneurship workshop
Terrell with the Freedom Writers
Terrell with the Freedom Writers
Aaron graduated from high school in June
Aaron graduated from high school in June
Lorenzo with Free Minds staff at his graduation
Lorenzo with Free Minds staff at his graduation

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Poet Ambassador Terrell speaks at an event
Poet Ambassador Terrell speaks at an event

Change blossomed this spring at Free Minds thanks to your support. Our Poet Ambassadors—Free Minds members home from prison who share their poetry and personal stories of change with the community—were nonstop! Poet Ambassadors presented and shared our message of liberation through reading and writing at the 2017 DC Prisoner and Reentry Symposium: State of Our Union, The D.C. Public Library Story Time Gala 2017, Youth Justice Forum: Justice for DC’s Youth, The Gathering: Open Mic with a Cause, DC Writer’s Workshop at Upshur Street Books,as well as our regular violence prevention outreach to 16 middle schools and high schools, 5 community groups, and 4 On the Same Page: Write Nights.

It was an especially uplifting season because we received the Renewal Award for Ingenuity from the Atlantic and Allstate. Free Minds was among five recipients selected from approximately 500 organizations nationwide. It was truly an exceptional honor. Poet Ambassador Nick spoke at the Renewal Summit. He said, “I want to thank the Atlantic and Allstate for allowing me to share my story, because I know it will help bring about a change. I hope people will treat someone from my experience with more dignity. That alone will give people from my background hope.” Free Minds would like to thank the Atlantic, Allstate, and the Renewal Project for this incredible recognition and opportunity to share the success of our program nationwide.

Our weekly Reentry Book Club, “The Build Up,” group continues to discuss literature, write poetry, share their own written work, and to support one another in the reentry process. The group has enjoyed discussing Jeff Henderson’s If You Can See It, You Can Be It and is now engrossed in The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir by D. Watkins.

We are excited to report the expansion of our Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship to a continuous learning and support network comprised of weekly skill building workshops, “The Build Up” sessions, paid work shifts with local businesses, personalized connections to jobs and programs, and the opportunity to give back through our “On the Same Page” community outreach program. Members meet every Friday to learn and practice concrete practical soft and hard job skills. Workshop topics include: entrepreneurship, mock interviews, budgeting/credit issues, life after incarceration, vision boards, and computer training. The group also went on a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial at the end of May. Thank you for making weekly apprenticeship workshops possible!

June kick-started the summer for Free Minds with a fruitful session at the Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings, DC’s juvenile detention facility. Poet Ambassador Terrell said, The chance to meet and connect with the youth in the juvenile system was very touching for me. I could see myself in them, how I was at their age. The talent and potential they have is really strong. I was so grateful to be able to be living proof to show them that there is another future available for them. They are lucky to have such a good school like the Maya Angelou School. I can't wait to go back."

Thank you for supporting Free Minds members like Terrell on their journey.

Free Minds members at the MLK Memorial
Free Minds members at the MLK Memorial
Free Minds won the Atlantic/Allstate Renewal Award
Free Minds won the Atlantic/Allstate Renewal Award
Free Minds members speak on a panel
Free Minds members speak on a panel

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Nick presented at the AWP Conference
Nick presented at the AWP Conference

Thank you for supporting Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop! We are off to a strong start in 2017, with new services and many exciting opportunities and experiences for the formerly incarcerated young men in our program.

In January, we launched a new element to our reentry services for formerly incarcerated youth—a weekly book club and writing workshop called “The Build Up.” Free Minds member Terrell named this new program The Build Up because, as he says, prison and the streets tear you down but in Free Minds we build each other up.

Free Minds reentry services now include job readiness and life skills training; supportive employment through partnerships with local businesses; personalized assistance in achieving career goals; connections to jobs, schools, vocational programs, and other services; and the Build Up, a weekly book club and writing workshop.

Members of the Build Up meet once a week to read and discuss literature, write and share poetry, and come together to support each other in navigating the challenges of reentry. One member of the Build Up, James, told us that he spends all week looking forward to it and doesn’t want to miss a single session.

So far in the Build Up, Free Minds members have read and discussed If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success by Chef Jeff Henderson and War Child by Emmanuel Jal. In February, Free Minds welcomed Emmanuel Jal to the Build Up, where he spoke about his life story, his music and writing, and his techniques for overcoming obstacles and “reprogramming your life.” Jal, an author, activist, and musician, is a former child soldier from South Sudan. Free Minds members related to his struggle and found common ground in the way he used storytelling to heal from trauma.

Meanwhile, formerly incarcerated Free Minds members have been sharing their poetry and personal stories with audiences from across the country. In February, Free Minds members presented at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) literary conference in Washington, DC. They participated in a panel discussion, a poetry reading, and the AWP Service Project, in which conference attendees read poetry by incarcerated Free Minds members and wrote words of encouragement to inspire and uplift the incarcerated poets.

In March, two Free Minds members, Nick and Hosea, traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to speak to students at Harvard Law School and to a group of over 100 high school students at St. Mary’s Church in Winchester, MA.

Free Minds members are also mentoring DC middle school students at a local public school, M.V. Leckie. Free Minds members facilitate monthly reading and writing workshops with the 7th grade students, serving as role models and credible messengers to the children.

As Free Minds member DeAngelo says, “The youth are our future. I didn’t really have adults in my life to tell me what was right, so I want to be that for the young people.”

Thank you to all of our supporters for making our work possible. We couldn’t do it without you!

Reentry Book Club members at "The Build Up"
Reentry Book Club members at "The Build Up"
Terrell shares his story with AWP conference-goers
Terrell shares his story with AWP conference-goers
Hosea speaks with a student at Harvard Law School
Hosea speaks with a student at Harvard Law School
Author Emmanuel Jal at the Build Up
Author Emmanuel Jal at the Build Up
Hosea speaks to teenagers in Massachusetts
Hosea speaks to teenagers in Massachusetts

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The Free Minds Family welcomes new graduates
The Free Minds Family welcomes new graduates

Thanks to your support, we are able to provide comprehensive reentry support to formerly incarcerated youths in DC. In October, nine Free Minds members graduated from the Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. Congratulations to Terrell, Lawaun, Reginald, Anthony, Hosea, Nigel, Gary, Jeffrey, and David!

They worked hard during the month-long Apprenticeship, practicing reading and writing, computer literacy, entrepreneurship, workplace problem solving, and more. They gained real on-the-job experience working shifts at two local contracting companies founded and run by fellow returning citizens (formerly incarcerated).

Free Minds Members Go to the Supreme Court

The Apprentices went on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Supreme Court of the United States! The Free Minds members toured the building and sat in the courtroom while arguments were happening. One Free Minds member said he couldn’t believe he actually got to visit the place he sees on TV and reads about in the newspaper. Another member said it was exciting to see what goes on in the Supreme Court because he knows that’s where the most important cases in the country are decided. We gave copies of our book, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison, to the Supreme Court Justices, and they wrote back telling us how much they appreciated the book and how the poetry and prose affected them. The voices of youth in the criminal justice system are being heard at the highest levels!

At the graduation ceremony, senior Free Minds members welcomed the new graduates into the Free Minds brotherhood, a network of support among formerly incarcerated Free Minds members in the workforce. One Free Minds member, Gary, who is a supervisor at a pet daycare, said, “I remember going through everything [the current Apprentices] are doing now. It actually helped me prepare for what I’m facing now.”

As a supervisor, Gary recommended another Free Minds member, Greg, for an open position at the pet daycare center. Greg has now been working there for several months and is excelling at the job.

Since we launched the remodeled Apprenticeship program in January 2015, over 80 Free Minds members have graduated and gone on to pursue exciting new adventures. We are very proud, and look forward to seeing what they accomplish next.

Free Minds Members Sharing the Untold Story

In September, Free Minds members and Apprenticeship graduates participated in the National Book Festival, sharing their poetry and personal stories, and elevating the voices of their fellow Free Minds members who are currently incarcerated. Visitors to the National Book Festival could read poetry in The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison, a collection of poetry and personal essays by Free Minds members.

One young man, D’Angelo, said, “When I was in prison, I was always telling myself, I’m going to do better. When I get out, I’m going to make a good life for myself. And now, seeing these books, and our words in these books? And people reading them, hearing our stories? It gives me hope. That’s hope right there.”

At the National Book Festival, Free Minds members met a television producer who invited them to appear on the local Fox 5 Morning Show. Terrell appeared on the Morning Show to talk about Free Minds, youth incarceration, and the value of creative expression.

Free Minds members at the Supreme Court
Free Minds members at the Supreme Court
Terrell with Fox5 host Annie Yu
Terrell with Fox5 host Annie Yu
David at his Apprenticeship graduation
David at his Apprenticeship graduation
Lawaun at his Apprenticeship graduation
Lawaun at his Apprenticeship graduation
Apprentices practice for job interviews
Apprentices practice for job interviews

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Isaiah graduates from the Apprenticeship
Isaiah graduates from the Apprenticeship

In August, 12 formerly incarcerated youths and adults graduated from the Free Minds Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. Congratulations to Caleb, D’Angelo, Damion, Delonta, Freddie, Ira, Isaiah, JaQuan, Joseph, Kenneth, Lorenzo, and Queyon!

With your support, the Apprentices studied and gained hands-on experience with literacy, goal setting, resume writing, job interviews, civil rights and history, health and wellness, budgeting and financial literacy, public speaking and communication skills, entrepreneurship, computer literacy, and more! Each Apprentice also worked a shift with a local contracting company, gaining valuable on-the-job experience alongside real employees and customers. The Apprentices went on a personalized tour of the US Capitol as well! Despite being born and raised in Washington, DC, this was the first time any of the Apprentices had been to the Capitol.

On August 17, Free Minds members and volunteers gathered to read and respond to poetry by incarcerated writers. At our latest On the Same Page: Write Night event, approximately 40 volunteers wrote feedback for Free Minds members who are currently incarcerated. Meanwhile, Free Minds members home from prison, including August Apprentices, shared some of their experiences with incarceration and reentry. For most of our Apprentices, it was the first time speaking in front of a crowd. They received a warm and friendly welcome home reception and we are so grateful.

Damion and Delonta read poetry on behalf of their Free Minds brothers who are currently incarcerated in federal prison. Joseph, Ira, DeAngelo, and Caleb spoke about the impact of their participation in our Reentry Book Club, and what being at Write Night meant to them personally.

 DeAngelo shared what it felt like to receive feedback on his poetry when he was incarcerated: "Some of us have support from our families, but what Free Minds does, getting support from those who don't even know us? That means so much. Getting just three words on that paper helps us wake up and get through the day in a positive way."

Free Minds members, staff, families, and friends gathered at the end of the month to celebrate the Apprentices’ hard work at their graduation ceremony. Isaiah volunteered to speak to the gathered crowd: “Sometimes when you’re locked up, your family gives up on you. But Free Minds is like a family--a new family. And they are there for you.”

Two senior Free Minds members and past Apprenticeship graduates, Alvin and Gary, also spoke. Alvin shared how much he learned from the mentors he was introduced to during the Apprenticeship, and Gary spoke about how he values being able to give back to his community. Gary is a supervisor at a pet daycare, and he recently hired Free Minds member Gary, who graduated from the Apprenticeship in May!

Free Minds staff placed 100% of the August Apprentices in job opportunities, schools, or vocational training programs. We are now looking ahead and preparing for the next Apprenticeship class in October.

As Ira told the crowd at Write Night, "Hope, Understanding, and Love" is what Free Minds means to him—and that’s what we see in our supporters. Thank you for providing hope, understanding, and love.

Delonta prepping for job interviews
Delonta prepping for job interviews
The Apprentices at the Capitol
The Apprentices at the Capitol
Apprenticeship Trainer Marcus leading discussion
Apprenticeship Trainer Marcus leading discussion
Caleb speaking to volunteers at Write Night
Caleb speaking to volunteers at Write Night
Delonta and Damion reading poetry at Write Night
Delonta and Damion reading poetry at Write Night

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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, DC United States
$30,761 raised of $35,000 goal
 
497 donations
$4,239 to go
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