Support for DC's Previously Incarcerated Youth

by Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
Lawrence and Marcus at the Newseum
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!
Free Minds Apprenticeship Graduate Charles!
Charles admiring a photo in the Newseum
Charles admiring a photo in the Newseum
Doug speaks to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton
Doug speaks to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton
Malik and Tara at the Public Welfare Foundation
Malik and Tara at the Public Welfare Foundation
Juan and Phil at the Alternative Gift Fair
Juan and Phil at the Alternative Gift Fair

Links:

Andrew and his mother at the June graduation
Andrew and his mother at the June graduation

“I joined the Apprenticeship Program to turn my life around."

In our work with returning citizens, one thing that we’ve learned is that reentry begins on the inside--mentally and physically. That’s why we were so excited a few weeks ago when a federal prison invited us as reentry experts to lead a workshop in the prison with over a hundred inmates planning ahead for their release. Our reentry team traveled to the facility where we met approximately 120 inmates, several of whom were Free Minds members, proudly telling everyone about the Book Club! We led the participants in workplace role playing sessions, and Free Minds Reentry Apprenticeship Trainer inspired everyone with his personal story of becoming a successful business owner after being incarcerated at a young age. We shared our new motto about the three most important aspects of reentry: Belief, Action, and Motivation. Believe that you can do it, take action to achieve your goals, and remember what motivates you, such as a loved one or a dream for your future, even when you’re facing difficult odds. We’ve received a stack of letters from the participants telling us how motivated they are now, and the prison has invited us back to do a job fair in a few months!

Meanwhile in DC, our Apprenticeship is going strong!

This past June, six more young men from DC have graduated from our Job-Readiness and Life Skills Apprenticeship and are already on to their next steps to success!

The apprentices worked hard throughout the month, providing program support in the Free Minds office, learning crucial job skills, and gaining practical on-the-job experience with Clean Decisions, a cleaning and contracting company founded by Free Minds member Will, and Perspectives, a contracting company founded by Reentry Apprenticeship Trainer Marcus Bullock and his business partner Anthony Belton. In addition, many of our community leaders and facilitators from previous apprenticeship sessions continued to invest in our apprentices, including Donald Curtis from SOUL (Student-Athletes Organized to Understand Leadership) and Larry Carroll Sr from KAOOS gym in DC. We recognize the importance of having mentors that you can relate to and who understand what you’re going through, which is why we connect our apprentices with formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs such as Will (a former Free Minds member, now founder of Clean Decisions!), Marcus Bullock, Anthony Belton, Donald Curtis, Larry Carroll, Sr., and more!

Other topics of our Monday, Wednesday, Friday sessions included resume writing, job interviews, college preparation, nutrition, physical fitness, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and more. Apprentices also visited the Newseum where they learned about civic responsibility and the Civil Rights Movement. In another session, they discussed advocacy with representatives from the Corrections Information Council (CIC). This was particularly interesting because a Free Minds member currently works for the CIC!

One recent Apprenticeship graduate, Anthony, hadn’t thought about what he wanted to do with his life when he first started the Apprenticeship after being released from prison. But after meeting Reentry Apprenticeship Trainer Marcus Bullock he began to work on concrete career goals. He was particularly inspired by a workshop on decision-making with guest speaker Dave Ungrady from the Born Ready project. As Anthony recalls, “I joined the Apprenticeship Program to turn my life around." Now he has completed additional vocational training programs and is thinking about different careers. He even referred a friend to the Apprenticeship program, giving us his stamp of approval!

Terrell, a current Apprentice, shared with us why he’s motivated to complete the program and change his life: “The Apprenticeship is a real opportunity for me to grow. I’m learning more about me. At first I wasn’t a big people person but I’m discovering that I can deal with all types of people from all walks of life. I want to help people now. Before when I was younger I had so much resentment and negativity toward others. I’m wiser now. I know how to think instead of just acting. I have new goals now. I’m able to learn how to better myself and be more productive. When I was into the lifestyle of the streets it was all about instant gratification...Now I have an entirely different motivation. The Apprenticeship is helping me because everyone needs help, you just can’t be afraid to ask for it.”

Recently, several of our members spoke at our Volunteer Write Night event in Takoma Park, where they shared their poetry and life experiences with a diverse group of volunteers from the D.C. area, and they read poetry by FM members who are currently incarcerated and wrote encouraging feedback for the poets. As we all know, reentry starts from the inside!

At Write Night, our senior Reentry Support members who have been in the program for a long time joined us in congratulating Phil on his 1-year anniversary of his release from prison. Phil has been working steadily for the Corrections Information Council, as well as doing outreach with Free Minds!

Another member, Tony, proudly told everybody about being a firefighter and how much it meant to him to be able to help people and support his community. Free Minds member Khalef brought his entire family to the event to show them the program that he was a part of.

We couldn't be prouder of our members, and we look forward to seeing what they accomplish next! Thank you for your continual support, and for believing in the power of books and writing to heal communities and transform lives!

Marcus Bullock with Andrew at graduation
Marcus Bullock with Andrew at graduation
The Skyland Workforce Center Computer Lab
The Skyland Workforce Center Computer Lab
Major at Impact Hub: Where Change Goes to Work
Major at Impact Hub: Where Change Goes to Work
Delonte pulls his weight at KAOOS gym!
Delonte pulls his weight at KAOOS gym!
Phil and Tony at Write Night
Phil and Tony at Write Night

Links:

Poet Ambassadors perform at Our City Festival
Poet Ambassadors perform at Our City Festival

We are thrilled to announce that seven more apprentices have recently graduated from our Job Readiness and Life Skills Apprenticeship in April! They are brimming with knowledge about college preparation, resume writing, workplace problem solving, and more!

One of our mottoes here at Free Minds is “Show, don’t tell,” advice that works for creative writing and for life! We look for mentors who can show—not just tell—our apprentices how to lead a positive life because they are living proof of their own message. We work hard to provide workshop leaders that our apprentices can relate to and look up to, people who have come from similar backgrounds and overcome great obstacles to become successful business owners and community leaders. Some of these leaders include Donald Curtis from SOUL (Student Athletes to Understand Leadership), who taught our apprentices about college prep, and Larry Carroll, Sr. from KAAOS gym who trained the apprentices in physical fitness and wellbeing.

We are also thrilled to announce a new official member of our Reentry Team. Marcus Bullock, founder of the company and app Flikshop, has been working with Free Minds for several years leading our workshop on entrepreneurship and now will be our Apprenticeship Coordinator, co-facilitating our workshops and managing all aspects of our Apprenticeship program. Each apprentice will have an opportunity to work for Perspectives, a general contracting company that does residential and commercial remodeling. Perspectives is run by Marcus Bullock and Anthony Belton, both returning citizens and role models. A former inmate turned entrepreneur himself, Marcus brings invaluable energy, encouragement, and life experience to his new role as Reentry Coordinator.

Another invaluable component of our Apprenticeship is the chance for our apprentices to interact with high level business professionals as part of our partnership with the Advisory Board Company (ABC), who facilitated job role play workshops in which their wonderful employees acted out real-life workplace scenarios that Free Minds members have encountered on the job, and demonstrated ways to handle the various challenges. In each scenario, a Free Minds member acted as the boss or co-worker, and a member of the Advisory Board team acted as the employee. The folks from ABC continue to be courageous and flexible, especially since our roleplaying Free Minds members don’t go easy on them! The best part by far was when the Advisory Board volunteers shared their own personal stories of work challenges from both past and present jobs. Hearing that everyone goes through tough job stress makes the apprentices realize they are not alone. The opportunity to see a professional office and meet folks who really care about their success is invaluable for our apprentices.

Some of our apprentices also participated in the Our City Festival, a recent celebration of DC through film, music, and literature. A crowd gathered at the MLK Library on a Sunday afternoon to view "Our Voices," our collaborative show with Chris Ousley from the folk band Bumper Jacksons. The show opened with the talented spoken word artist Bomani Armah, and then seven Free Minds Poet Ambassadors performed an original spoken word piece. Each Poet Ambassador also individually shared poems written by fellow Free Minds members who are still incarcerated, backed up by musicians from the Chuck Brown trio, DC’s legendary go-go band.

"Our Voices, Our Voices, Our Voices are the key.

Now we feel accomplished, accepted, and free."

Combining the reflective process of writing and the creative process of performing with music made the collaboration and delivery all the more powerful. As poet Bomani Armah articulated, "The more these young men can tell their stories, the better off we all are."

None of these amazing ventures would have been possible without the dedicated support of people like you. Because of your support, our Free Minds members not only have their stories told, but they have their voices heard.

Thank you again for making our work possible!

Apprentices practice physical fitness at KAAOS gym
Apprentices practice physical fitness at KAAOS gym
Marcus Bullock cuts cake at Apprenticeship grad!
Marcus Bullock cuts cake at Apprenticeship grad!
Anthony Belton speaks at Apprenticeship graduation
Anthony Belton speaks at Apprenticeship graduation
Role playing with the Advisory Board Company
Role playing with the Advisory Board Company
Poet Ambassadors performing at Our City Festival
Poet Ambassadors performing at Our City Festival

Links:

Free Minds Apprentices and staff
Free Minds Apprentices and staff

Dear Free Minds Friend,

Thank you so much for supporting our project to provide comprehensive job readiness and life skills training for young adults returning from prison. 

Six apprentices have already completed our program in 2015 since we expanded the program to be month-long instead of week-long. Meeting 3 times a week throughout February, the apprentices participated in a variety of job-readiness workshops and trainings, including roleplaying for job interviews and learning to plan a budget. We were also honored to host several guest speakers, including Maureen Herman from the Department of Education to discuss resumes, Donald Curtis from SOUL (Student Athletes to Understand Leadership) to talk about college prep, Dr. Norah Neale to discuss stress management and mental health awareness, and Larry Carroll, Sr. from KAAOS gym to go over physical fitness.

One of the guys’ favorite sessions was hosted by Marcus Bullock, founder of the company and app Flikshop. A former inmate himself, Bullock described his own journey from a cell block to the world of business entrepreneurship, creating a company that sends postcards to inmates around the country. Bullock challenged each apprentice to articulate his own goals and to see himself as an entrepreneur in his own right. That same day, the apprentices were also treated to a surprise visit from Shaka Senghor, the author of Writing My Wrongs, which the guys read and discussed as part of their training.

Several apprentices also had the opportunity to speak at our monthly Write Night at George Washington University. Despite initial anxiousness about speaking in front of a crowd of over 100 people, apprentices Ricardo and Joshua bravely shared a few poems and their personal experiences with the group.

The apprentices also spent one morning creating vision boards with magazine clippings and colored markers, reflecting on their future goals. For 17-year-old Anthony, that meant cutting out a huge picture of vegetable lo mein to represent his aspirations of working in the food industry. He hopes to eventually learn the ropes at the DC Central Food Kitchen once he turns 18.

One afternoon, the apprentices viewed a video about famous failures, where they heard the stories of personalities like Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Oprah Winfrey. Reflecting on the fact that each of these success stories was once told that they would never amount to much of anything, the apprentices recalled several similar experiences in their own lives. Tavon shared that when he was 13, an older guy on the block said that he would never make it to 21. This year, he celebrated his 22nd birthday. David M, a 26-year-old, was told he would never get an education because of his behavior issues. In 2007, however, he attained his GED, and he is now on track to full-time employment.

Truthfully, we could not do this without you. Because of your help, young men who thought they would never hold a job, nevertheless stick with a program, are beginning to experience both. We, and those we serve, deeply appreciate your generosity.

Mentors: Mr. Belton, Mr. Senghor, Mr. Bullock
Mentors: Mr. Belton, Mr. Senghor, Mr. Bullock
Mr. Bullock leading an entrepreneurship workshop
Mr. Bullock leading an entrepreneurship workshop
Ricardo speaks to volunteers at Write Night
Ricardo speaks to volunteers at Write Night
Tavon in the Free Minds office
Tavon in the Free Minds office

Links:

Robert loves speaking at outreach events!
Robert loves speaking at outreach events!

Dear Free Minds Friends,

I’d like to share with you a message from a young man in our program:

“I’ve been in the same predicament as so many troubled youth.  It’s important for me to give back and mentor them, because it’s what I needed when I was their age.  I’ve seen the weight that the label of ‘felon’ gives a person.  I remember how Free Minds stuck with me throughout my bid.  I remember how it felt when you were expecting mail from your family, or your man, or your girlfriend and you didn’t get anything.  But then they called your name at mail call and it was a letter from Free Minds.  That shows you have somebody that cares about you.  They helped me so much.  Now that I’m home, I’m here for Free Minds.  I ain’t going nowhere!  Helping others?  For me, it’s a necessity!”

That’s Robert, a young man who joined Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop when he was 16 years old and incarcerated as an adult. Robert came home earlier this year at the age of 24, and in just a few weeks he got a job with the DC Department of General Services on a maintenance crew. He also began doing community outreach with Free Minds as a Poet Ambassador—if you’ve attended any of our Write Night events recently, you might have heard him share his poetry!

Robert is not the only one of our Reentry Support members to achieve success in the last few months—far from it!

 

Free Minds Members Finding Success

Since our last report, four recently released members have graduated from our Job Readiness Apprenticeship program: congratulations to Steven, Zach, Calvin, and Phil! During the apprenticeship, they provided program support in the Free Minds office, while practicing crucial job skills such as computer literacy, communication, and teamwork. They also learned how to write a resume, and how to succeed in a job interview!

At the end of the Apprenticeship, Phil began working full-time at a local restaurant. Andre, another Reentry Support member who came home in the fall, got a job at a supermarket. Aaron went back to school and is working towards his high school diploma. Finally, long-time Free Minds member Will launched his own cleaning business, achieving his goal of being his own boss!

This fall, our Reentry Support members had the opportunity to work with employees of the Advisory Board Company on skills such as public speaking, communication, and problem solving in the workplace. Free Minds members and Advisory Board Company staff acted out various scenarios and different methods of conflict management. It was an eye-opening day for everyone!

 

Poets With A Purpose

Free Minds “Poet Ambassadors” have also been sharing the voices of incarcerated youth and spreading the word about how books and writing can change lives. In October, five Poet Ambassadors traveled to Scranton University in Pennsylvania, taking On the Same Page on the road for the first time! They shared their poetry and life experiences with Scranton University students, who had this to say about the event:

“This really opened my eyes to the issues these young men face. Thank you.”

“Very inspiring! The speakers are very brave and it is so amazing that they are where they are!”

“Being a big writer, it’s awesome to see how writing helps incarcerated youth. Writing is such a freeing experience and you really emphasized that.”

Free Minds Reentry Support members have also brought their message to DC City Council: this fall, seven Poet Ambassadors testified at a City Council hearing on a bill to keep juveniles out of the adult criminal justice system, the Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act (YOARA). Although the bill did not ultimately get a vote in this legislative session, the Free Minds members made their voices heard and helped mobilize community support for this legislation.

Meanwhile, in addition to our On the Same Page events with local student and community groups, our Poet Ambassadors conduct weekly writing workshops with incarcerated youth at New Beginnings Youth Development Center, and biweekly workshops with students at a DC middle school.

Poet Ambassador Anthony shared with us why he enjoys going to the school:

“I like going there because when I share my story with the middle school kids it helps them open up about what’s going on in their lives and it also helps me process what I was going through when I was their age so I can understand my life better. Low income and fixed income children have dreams as the kids share with us every Friday. Our goal as poets with a purpose, Free Minds Poet Ambassadors, is to help them with their dreams.”

Thank you for helping Free Minds members achieve their dreams this holiday season.

Free Minds members with Advisory Board Company
Free Minds members with Advisory Board Company
Role playing with Advisory Board staff
Role playing with Advisory Board staff
Calvin and Phil at the Advisory Board Company
Calvin and Phil at the Advisory Board Company
Free Minds Outreach Team at Scranton University
Free Minds Outreach Team at Scranton University
Poet Ambassadors outside Scranton University
Poet Ambassadors outside Scranton University

Links:

About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.freemindsbookclub.org
Project Leader:
Tara Libert
Washington, DC United States
$21,638 raised of $25,000 goal
 
278 donations
$3,363 to go
Donate Now
Donating through GlobalGiving is safe, secure, and easy with many payment options to choose from. Learn more
Add Project to Favorites

Help raise money for this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page for this project.

Start a Fundraiser