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
Wilson taking in the view in New York City
Wilson taking in the view in New York City

Happy Spring! With your support, we continue to provide intensive reentry support for formerly incarcerated youths and adults, including weekly reading and writing workshops, weekly job readiness and personal skill building sessions, and personalized connections to job opportunities, vocational programs, schools, and community services.

In our job readiness and personal skill building program, Free Minds members continue to learn and grow in preparation for career success. In the last few months, Free Minds members have participated in workshops on creative writing, storytelling, financial literacy, starting your own nonprofit, testifying in front of local legislators, job interviews, computer literacy, public presentation, parenting, and more.

Meanwhile, Free Minds members also gather weekly at “The Build Up,” a book club and writing workshop named for the way the streets and prison tear you down, but Free Minds builds you up. At weekly “Build Up” sessions, Free Minds members read and discuss poetry or essays, write and share their own poems, and discuss topics such as perseverance and goal setting.

Free Minds member Aaron wrote the following poem in one of these sessions:

Letter to the Voice in My Head
By Aaron
 
Please, I only want positive not negative
Please, help me with temptation, don’t face it
Please, accommodate my needs. Don’t disintegrate to be fed
Please, I need help, the way out of this place
If you stop throwing temptation in my face
 
Help, I am seeking knowledge
Help, I only feed off positivity
Help, my needs are more important than wants
Help, positivity I seek, negativity I leak

In February, Free Minds staff and Poet Ambassadors James, Brandon, and Wilson traveled to New York City to visit Columbia Law School. There, they gave a presentation to assembled law students. James, Brandon, and Wilson shared their experiences with public defenders, the judicial system, and incarceration and reentry. Thank you to the Columbia Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual team for sponsoring the event. The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual is a handbook of legal rights and procedures designed for use by people in prison. Wilson said of the experience, “My favorite part of the event at Columbia University was answering all of the questions that the future lawyers in the room had. It made me proud to know that they genuinely wanted to know how to make the system better from folks who have already been in the system.” This represents an important part of our work to build understanding and empathy between future attorneys and those who are directly impacted by the criminal justice system.

In March, Poet Ambassador took another trip, this time to Tampa, Florida, to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference. James spoke on a panel called “Redemption in the Pen: Insights from the Journeys of Formerly Incarcerated Writers.” James shared his perspective as a poet and lyricist, and how creative writing helped him maintain his sense of self throughout his incarceration. He also opened up about writing and sharing his story now that he has been released: “People need to hear my story, to understand what I’ve been through and where I’m going.” Thank you to AWP and all the attendees, as well as panelists Michael Fischer, Randall Horton, and Reginald Dwayne Betts.

We are so proud of James, Brandon, and Wilson for sharing our message of hope and healing through poetry.

Finally, congratulations to Free Minds member Gary, who received an award from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (DC probation agency). Gary accepted his award for successful reentry at the Citywide Justice Assembly. Gary has been home and working for five years. We are excited to see what's next on his path!

Thank you for being a partner in our work to support formerly incarcerated youths on the road to success.

Free Minds members practicing for job interviews
Free Minds members practicing for job interviews
Free Minds members practicing computer skills
Free Minds members practicing computer skills
Poet Ambassadors speaking at Columbia Law School
Poet Ambassadors speaking at Columbia Law School
Free Minds team with the Columbia organizers
Free Minds team with the Columbia organizers
James with the AWP panelists in Florida
James with the AWP panelists in Florida

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Nick won an award from DC's probation agency
Nick won an award from DC's probation agency

Thanks to your generosity, together we are helping young men home from prison transform their lives. Free Minds has been very busy these last few months, celebrating Youth Justice Awareness Month, organizing job readiness workshops, and cheering on our members as they continue to inspire us!

Youth Justice Awareness Month (#YJAM)

We honored our Free Minds Reentry Book Club members with a special #YJAM ceremony at our October Write Night. We wanted to celebrate our members’ persistence in the face of the many challenges of reentry. We honored 17 Free Minds members for participating in our Reentry Book Club and Job Readiness Apprenticeship. FM member Louis won the “Perfect Attendance” award, and Lorenzo won the “Perseverance” award! We are so grateful for all of our FM members and their dedication to change; thank you to our supporters for believing in the power of second chances.

Reentry Workshops

To help our members adjust to reentry, Free Minds hosts workshops on job readiness and other important life skills, with formerly incarcerated facilitators who serve as mentors and credible messengers to our members coming home from jail or prison. Since our last report, Free Minds members have learned about fatherhood, co-parenting, job interviews, budgeting and financial literacy, conflict mediation, health and wellness, and more. Free Minds members also went on a field trip to the National Museum of Natural History to expand their horizons and learn more about the world around us. One of our Apprenticeship Trainers, Marcus Bullock, was recently selected as part of John Legend’s inaugural “Unlocked Futures” cohort, a 16-month accelerator for social entrepreneurs impacted by the criminal justice system. Free Minds member Will Avila (Founder/CEO of Clean Decisions) is also part of the Unlocked Futures cohort. Marcus, Will, and other formerly incarcerated business owners are inspirations to all of us and important role models for our members.

Free Minds Members Tell Their Life Stories

DC nonprofit Theatre Lab recently selected Free Minds to be part of their Life Stories Program! This organization helps young people tell their stories through film or theatre as a way to control their narrative and increase their awareness of their creative potential. Our Reentry Book Club members are working with Theatre Lab trainers and professional actors to learn how to tell their stories through theater. We cannot wait to see what they create!

Free Minds Members in the Community

Free Minds members have been actively participating in local politics. Several FM members testified at the DC Council Education committee hearing on education for students during and after incarceration. Free Minds member James spoke at press conference about proposed legislation to curb school suspension. James shared his experiences with being school suspension and the school-to-prison pipeline. We are so proud of our members’ commitment to making a difference!

Free Minds members have also shared their stories with publications such as the Marshall Project and the Washington Post. Finally, huge congratulations to Nick, who won the "Most Improved" Award from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (DC’s probation agency)!

Thank you for everything you have done to support our members on the path to success. We can’t do it without you!

Terrell and Demetrius testified at DC Council
Terrell and Demetrius testified at DC Council
Aaron (center) at the Reentry Recognition Ceremony
Aaron (center) at the Reentry Recognition Ceremony
Free Minds members at the Recognition Ceremony
Free Minds members at the Recognition Ceremony

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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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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
$35,103 raised of $40,000 goal
 
570 donations
$4,897 to go
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