Lawrence and Marcus at the Newseum
We love this time of year as we have so many opportunities to get the word out about all our Free Minds members' successes--from graduation ceremonies, to Washington Post articles, to round tables with DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton! Our Poet Ambassadors' calendars have been packed with events. That's a true gift!
“The Apprenticeship is a Second Chance”
We had many extra reasons to be thankful this November, as we welcomed six new apprentices to the Free Minds family. The sessions covered a range of topics, including resume-building, budgets and finance, computer literacy, entrepreneurship, continued education, interview prep, and fitness. It was also a joy to welcome back many of our guest speakers from previous apprenticeships, including Donald Curtis from SOUL, Larry Carroll from KAAOS Gym, and Derrick Bey from Redefine Your Mind. One of our November Apprentices’ favorite sessions was when they spent the afternoon at the Newseum in downtown DC. While going through the Pulitzer Prize exhibit, Free Minds member Aaron saw a picture and remembered that the same photo was on the cover of a book from Free Minds that he received while locked up titled A Long Way Gone. He was so excited to recognize the photo that he began sharing the story from the book and how it affected him reading it while he was in the hole. He said the Newseum was the best museum that he had ever been to and he wanted to come back.
At the end of the month, it was time for another graduation ceremony, and the chairs in our community room were packed. After a short welcome from Executive Director Tara Libert, Free Minds Reentry Coach Marcus Bullock took the stage. He shared words of encouragement and purpose with the audience before introducing Doug, the chosen speaker from the graduating class. Speaking thoughtfully, Doug shared, “Free Minds is extended family. The Apprenticeship is a second chance. I never had a job before. I didn't think I could ... In this Apprenticeship, I learned so much. I appreciate everything. You all were a big help, [and] you welcomed me with open arms. I [even] remember that first book you gave me. Along Came A Spider by James Patterson. I'll never forget that first book!"
Since the graduation ceremony at the end of November, five out of six of our apprentices are working full-time, and the sixth is currently working towards his GED. We couldn’t be more proud of these Free Minds brothers and the 28 other apprentices who graduated from the program in 2015. As we come to the close of one year, we are looking forward to the continued success of the Free Minds Job Readiness and Life Skills Apprenticeship in 2016!
Sharing the Untold Story
In early December, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton hosted a roundtable to examine ways to ensure assistance for returning citizens to DC as they transition back to society. Doug, who had just completed the Free Minds Apprenticeship, attended the meeting and spoke about his own experience coming home from prison in October. Although he was initially nervous to speak to the crowd, he got a round of applause after he talked! We are grateful for these opportunities for our members to share their untold stories of firsthand experience.
The Power of Art
The same week, Free Minds attended an event at the Public Welfare Foundation in DC called Creating Justice: The Transformative Power of the Arts in Advancing Justice Reform. An evening of visual art, performances, and discussion about the transformative power of the arts in advancing a new vision of justice, the event featured several speakers, artists, performers, and advocates who are leading campaigns across the country to transform the criminal and juvenile justice systems in the United States. The performances included a poetry reading by Free Minds member Malik. A graduate of our September apprenticeship, Malik read a piece from our most recent literary journal, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison.
The Reason for the Season
Later on in December, Free Minds participated in an Alternative Gift Fair in Takoma Park, Maryland. Instead of selling products, Free Minds joined 15 other local nonprofits to speak about our mission to community members looking for alternatives to the heightened materialism that often accompanies the holiday season. Free Minds Poet Ambassadors Juan and Phil spoke with dozens of people throughout the afternoon, sharing the impact of Free Minds on their lives and the lifeline poetry and creative writing can provide for incarcerated men and women. Community members had the opportunity to partner with us in our 10,000 Journals for Hope Campaign, in which we are raising the funds to send 10,000 literary journals to youth in solitary confinement, juvenile detention centers, and schools across the country (#10000JournalsForHope). Click here for more ways to get involved with the campaign.
Free Minds Celebrities
Recently, three of our members were featured in the Washington Post for their work around the city. Will Avila, a Free Minds member since the early 2000s, started a company last year called Clean Decisions to provide returning citizens with jobs and skills in hopes of keeping them out of prison. The Clean Decisions employees deep-clean stoves, countertops, floors, food containers, and more at restaurants around the city. More than providing a service for both business clients and employees, Clean Decisions provides a brotherhood of support and camaraderie. As Graham McLaughlin, co-owner of Clean Decisions, says, “[Will] really created a positive environment, where it’s not just about the helpers and those being helped. It’s a real brotherhood.”
You can read the Washington Post article here.
Solitary Confinement on 16th Street
During the second week of December, Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street in Washington, DC hosted a full-size replica of a solitary confinement cell, also known as a Special Housing Unit (SHU). Visitors were invited to walk through, sit in, and reflect on the installation, facilitated by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). On the opening day, NRCAT hosted a panel of speakers to reflect on the use of Solitary Confinement in prisons and juvenile detention centers across the country. Free Minds Poet Ambassador Juan spoke on the panel, and also participated in an interview with PBS on his experience being in solitary confinement for 18 months.
When Juan first arrived at the church, he couldn’t look at the cell, and almost left when he first saw it. In the end, he decided to stay because he realized that the public needs to know what is going on behind the prison walls, and that someone needs to be the one to talk about it.
None of these amazing ventures would have been possible without the dedicated support of people like you. Every time you contribute, you are joining the mission to build a stronger and safer community. THANK YOU from all of us for believing in the power of sharing our untold stories!
Free Minds Apprenticeship Graduate Charles!
Charles admiring a photo in the Newseum
Doug speaks to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton
Malik and Tara at the Public Welfare Foundation
Juan and Phil at the Alternative Gift Fair