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Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Arts & Culture, Education, Literacy, Remedial Reading & Encouragement

Mission: Free minds uses books and creative writing to empower young inmates to set and achieve new educational and career goals.

Programs: Free minds uses books and creative writing to empower young inmates to set and achieve new educational and career goals

Community Stories

4 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

Freeing My Mind with Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop (www.freemindsbookclub.org)

FREE MINDS frees MY Mind from accepting casual racism; from accepting the status quo; from viewing black men as The Other
FREE MINDS affirms and deepens my understanding that race is a construct; that there is no Other; that we are All members of Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community
FREE MINDS pushes me to be more aware; to be more thoughtful; to think deeply about systemic barriers to justice
FREE MINDS allow me to have deeper conversations with my larger community; affords me an opportunity to discover and share my true self
FREE MINDS reveals the connectivity of our lives; pushes me to broaden my horizons
FREE MINDS gives me a place of joy, of endeavor; of new beginnings; of warm nourishment; of acceptance.

These reflections stem from two volunteer opportunities with Free Minds Book Club.

The first opportunity was an evening with 3 Poet Ambassador graduates from Free Mind’s Apprenticeship Program. Together we watched the film Rosenwald, a story of a partnership between Jewish and African-American communities that resulted in the building of over 5,000 schools for African-American children in the early 20th Century. After the film we discussed the film over dinner at a local diner. These young men had spent many years in Federal prisons after being convicted as adults while teenagers. I was so impressed with their maturity; their understanding of the importance of community; their interest in black history; and their comfort level with me. Sharing hamburgers and milkshakes with these young men was an energizing, learning, experience, that left me with great hope for the future of Free Minds Book club members.

The second volunteer opportunity was participation in Write Night, an evening open to the public to read and reflect on poetry written by Free Minds Book Club Members still in the Federal prison system. The poems drew me into the lives of each person: their hurt; their loneliness; their honesty; their determination; and their courage in putting into writing their emotions, fears, and dreams. I found myself more consciously listening to the stories of journeys very different from my own; more awake to our shared need of community and love.

Thank you Free Minds Book Club Members for broadening my understanding of community!

Review from #MyGivingStory

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5


I love giving to Freemindsbookclub.org! In fact, I love everything about Free Minds. Every time I come into contact with the program, whether it be a trip to their website, reading the Connect newsletter in the mail, attending their volunteer Write Nights, speaking to their inspiring “poet ambassadors” and staff, or having them come to speak to students in my school, I feel a unique and intense sense of enrichment.

Free Minds is an unusual program that provides a book club and poetry workshop for youths incarcerated as adults in the DC jail. It follows the youths by correspondence when they are sent to federal prisons and provides reentry support, including a month-long apprenticeship program, when they return. Free Minds members who have served their time act as Poet Ambassadors, leading workshops in high schools and middle schools and speaking at monthly Write Night volunteer opportunities. They always emphasize how Free Minds saved their souls when they were in a very dark place. That would be reason enough for giving to Free Minds.

However, I also love supporting Free Minds for more selfish reasons. I have become addicted to the way it creates human connections across the many walls that separate the fortunate ones in our society from the less fortunate. When I attend Write Night and sit with a poem written by an inmate I get an uncanny feeling of direct communication with someone who society has placed out of bounds, someone for whom words and poetry have taken on huge significance. This connection is an amazing feeling for me personally. Like many people I know, I am deeply concerned about mass incarceration, solitary confinement, and the channeling of adolescents into the adult criminal justice system. Free Minds gives me the opportunity to open a direct line of communication with individuals who are caught up in that system.

And speaking of individuals, I love the way Free Minds individualizes and humanizes inmates. They are no longer to me an undifferentiated group of people, they are D’Angelo, Delonte, Demetrich, etc., people who I have grown to know a little bit from the intimate reflections contained in their poetry and been able to connect with through commenting on their literary works.

Review from #MyGivingStory

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

Free Minds Book Club {www.freemindsbookclub.org} – Giving Voice to the Voiceless and a Community to the Isolated

There are so many things that I love about Free Minds: every time I think about what Free Minds accomplishes, and every time I attend a Free Minds event, something new strikes me, but when I try to identify common themes, what keeps coming back to me is this: community and voice. Believing, as I do, that my relative comfort and privilege entails obligations, I contribute to a lot of charitable organizations and non-profits. But of all of them, Free Minds Book Club is the only one that warms my heart whenever I think of it, and it’s this – that Free Minds helps its members find their voices and fosters in them a community – that sets it apart.

I have volunteered at Free Minds Write Nights for a number of years, and in that time I have heard over and over again from the Free Minds members how Free Minds found them, hard and angry and isolated, cold and mute as stones in their cells, and drew them out through shear persistence. Through the Book Club, Free Minds found the dim embers of self-awareness in so many of these young men (and women), and nurtured them until they sparked into voices with which the members could begin to think critically about themselves, their choices, and the consequences of those choices. The poems that we have the privilege of reading and responding to at Write Night are testimonials to this process.

Indeed, over the years, I have witnessed Free Minds members who are out of prison – who were incarcerated during the years when most people develop their adult selves - growing into articulate and self-aware young men. The title Free Minds has given them – Poet Ambassadors – is apt. And I have seen how the Poet Ambassadors see themselves as a community, relying on each other and supporting each other in their struggle to turn their lives around. It’s powerful, and it’s beautiful.

Review from #MyGivingStory


Rating: 5

I have seen these amazing kids in action. I attended a poetry reading by the Free Minds members and was very touched by the feelings and raw emotions they expressed through their writing. Despite the fact that my life and experiences are so completely different than the lives and experiences of these kids, I was reminded that we all share the same humaness. Happiness, sadness, joy, family, fear, uncertainty, accomplishment are common to us all.