"When I read the poems I felt strong, bright and righteous. I had to stand representing for my homeboys. It gave me strength to stand right there.

I had to spit it like they would. They would want someone to hear them crying out for help, to express how they feel inside of them.

Writing helps you out with those feelings that you’re dealing with. I write so I can be heard. I want to be like Tupac. Before I die I want my name to be known by everyone."

— Decario, Free Minds Member on reading at Hear Us Out! 2007 Poetry Reading


Volunteer Write Night

Free Minds hosts a monthly Write Night where FM Reentry Support members home from prison and community volunteers gather to provide feedback on the writing of Book Club members still incarcerated. It is a simple and powerful way to support members’ processes of self-awareness and change, as well as read great writing and meet other volunteers! Write Night is held on the fourth Tuesday of every month, from 6-8 pm at the Church of the Pilgrim. The church is located at 2201 P St NW, just a few blocks from the Dupont Circle metro. Send a note to mail@freemindsbookclub.org to learn more about upcoming Write Nights.

Free Minds Poems Win Prestigious Awards

In a Free Minds first, we are proud to announce that five Book Club members have been named winners of The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers 2012 Regional Scholastic Writing Awards. A highly respected panel of Washington DC writers, teachers, and literary professionals selected the poetry and essays of our young members from over 700 works submitted this year as among the most exceptional in our region. Two of our members received Scholastic’s “Silver Key Award” recognizing outstanding achievement for poetry. Three more young writers received “Honorable Mention.” All five young men are still incarcerated.

Alonzo’s mother, Demika reads his poem “Momma Told Me” at the Busboys & Poets event on February 26th




Family members and the community celebrated their achievements with a reading at Busboys & Poets on February 26th. An enthusiastic audience packed the venue’s Langston Room to hear the teenaged writers read their work. The mother and father of two of our winners read on behalf of their sons in performances that clearly touched audience members, bringing more than a few to tears.

Free Minds Member Alonzo's mother, Demika, and girlfriend Briaynna at the event


Demika, mother of Free Minds member Alonzo, read his poem “Momma Told Me.” When asked what it was like to read his poem at the awards event, she replied, "It was so emotional. I was shaking. All his life people have said to me that Alonzo isn't serious because he's always smiling and joking. I've had to explain to them that Alonzo smiles as a cover up but he speaks through his poetry. He's real when he writes. Once you read his poetry you know him. You can look into his soul. Alonzo and I are so connected now through his poetry. Poetry brings people together."

Upon learning of his achievement, Alonzo wrote us a letter saying: “OMG! I won the Silver Key…Wow! I’m so happy and shocked. You wanna know something? I never thought I’d ever be writing poetry, but now I feel as though I could become a well-known poet!”

We agree with you, Alonzo!

A big congratulations goes out to: Alonzo, DeVonte, Larry, Christian and D’Angelo.

Read some of their award-winning writing!

Literary Journal Released!

Free Minds is thrilled to announce the release of “They Call Me 299-359: Writings by the Incarcerated Youth of Free Minds Book Club &Writing Workshop,” an anthology of essays and poems written, edited and compiled by incarcerated youth from Washington DC.

Free Minds Member Maurice and Program Director Juliana proudly display the new literary journal (Photo Ryan Corl)



Every year more than 60 teenaged boys from Washington DC are charged and incarcerated as adults for felony crimes. Some are eventually found innocent and released, other go on to serve sentences that range from a year to life. When they turn 18, they are transferred from DC Jail to federal prisons.


“They Call Me 299-359” contains hundreds of poems and essays written by those young men behind bars. After a call went out for submissions to the anthology, entries flooded in from young men around the country to the editorial panel of three—Kenneth, Jonas and Paulo, who are also locked up.

Happy Hour for Word Power attendees smile at being the first to receive the new literary journal (Photo Ryan Corl)


Editor Paulo says: “Writing has reshaped my life and thoughts. It has given me ideas of how to see and live life in a positive spin. Through my writing, I have come to speak to the world. “

The idea for the book grew out of the reaction of families, audiences, law enforcement and judges to public readings of poems and essays from DC’s young inmates. “They Call Me 299-359 gives voice to teens who have grown up in some of Washington DC’s most violent and impoverished neighborhoods. Its authors paint a picture of struggle and fears, but also hope for change and redemption,” says Kelli Taylor, Free Minds Co-Founder and Board Chair.

Free Minds Member Josh shares excerpts from the new collection (Photo Ryan Corl)


Free Minds members home in the community read excerpts from the collection to a packed and attentive crowd attending our “Happy Hour for Word Power”. One attendee who had never heard of Free Minds before being brought by a friend to the event said that hearing the writing gave him hope, “and it really helped me see the person behind the number.”

Copies of They Call Me 299-359 are available for a donation. If you would like to obtain the book, please contact the Juliana Ratner, Program Director at juliana@freemindsbookclub.org or 202.758.0829.

Free Minds is also using the book as a teaching tool as part of its “On the Same Page: Free Minds Poetry in the Community” initiative. If you know of a class or organization that would be interested in having Free Minds Poets present, please contact Juliana.

They Call Me 299-359

Orange jumpsuit, shower shoes and an arm band
Lost in a cold dream called prison
Four sharp corners, eggshell paint, dusty gray floor
No tears, just my pen in action
They call me 299-359
I push the pen so that I remain happy
Mama and Daddy, these are the unspoken words of your baby’s diary
My orange jumpsuit and number are only the book cover
So please don’t judge
My words are as pure as gold
Not aware of the success these lines hold
I operate this pen to fight the war mentality
So please understand me
They call me 299-359
Orange jumpsuit, shower shoes and an arm band


Donate Books for Holiday Book Drive!

This holiday season, Free Minds is hoping to provide members of the Book Club on the juvenile unit with engaging supplemental reading that matches their interests. Please click here to go to our amazon.com wishlist, personalized with requests from the unit. We also encourage you to support local independent bookstores- you can buy books and bring them to our office.

Free Minds Inspires with Screening of the Interrupters


Panelists L-R: FM Members Darius and Gerald, Author Michael Mattocks, FM Member and Reentry Coach Michael, Youth Mentor Brian McEwen (Photo Erin Finicane)


Free Minds was honored to partner with the Benevolent Media Festival and American University’s Center for Social Media to host a screening of the powerful new documentary The Interrupters, the moving and surprising story of three “violence interrupters” in Chicago who with bravado, humility and even humor try to protect their communities from the violence they once employed. Following the film, Free Minds Co-Founder and Executive Director Tara Libert moderated a panel of local leaders Mark Timberlake, Michael Mattocks, Eddie Ellis, and Brian McEwen, joined by Free Minds members Michael, Gerald, and Darius- seven individuals working to interrupt the cycle of violence in DC.

Read further coverage of the event:

From the Center for Social Media
From Benevolent Media
From Bittersweet Zine

Free Minds Hosts First “ Write Night”

Article contributed by Free Minds Volunteer Jaclyn Zubrzycki

As part of a new effort begun this summer, Free Minds is now hosting volunteer Write Nights, where volunteers from throughout the community gather to read and respond to the writing of the young authors of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop.

Write Night

Volunteers writing feedback to Free Minds Members in Federal Prison (Photo Carla Ruas)

Free Minds members’ poems are also posted on a blog, but the personal touch is important. Free Minds sends birthday cards, a monthly newsletter, and letters to inmates, and this mail is often the only mail the members receive. At Write Night, volunteers read, illustrate, and respond to the poems – almost all of which deal with tough themes like forgiveness, regret, and loneliness. The poems and responses are then mailed back to their authors in DC Jail and in Federal Prisons across the country, where the feedback is read eagerly and used to improve their writing. One member recently wrote in a letter from prison in Pennsylvania, “Thanks so much for the feedback, the comments helped me look at things from a different point of view."

At a recent Write Night, Darius, a Free Minds Member who has been home for several months, reinforced the importance of the personal notes: “It’s powerful. Their families may not be reaching out to them in that way.” D.C. youth charged as adults are often sent to prisons across the country when they turn 18, which makes staying in touch with family and loved ones even more difficult. Darius said that Free Minds had helped keep him positive and “on the right track.”

Michael, another Free Minds Member, described waiting for mail in prison “like a dog wagging its tail.” He said it was interesting to see the other side of an organization that had been important to him during his 33 months in prison – “I wasn’t a poet before Free Minds.” He said he’d often reread the feedback to his poems again and again while in prison. “It helps you know you’re not there to rot and die.”

Volunteers shared stories about what drew them to Free Minds. Several were former teachers, and two had worked with Free Minds students at the juvenile facility; one had donated books to the organization. Write Night is the newest of several ways for volunteers to be involved: Free Minds has always looked for volunteers to respond to poems on its blog and donate books.

Attendees at a Write Night in September included not only Free Minds volunteers and members, but representatives of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Eleanor Wilson Chapter. They came to present monetary support with a check to fund the new initiative Books Across the Miles!, but they didn’t stop there- they stayed to provide critical writing support by sharing caring feedback on the poems. After Write Night, the DAR representatives were so inspired that they brought copies of poems to their national conference to collect even more feedback.

Write Night

Daughters of the American Revolution join Free Minds Volunteers and Members at Write Night (Photo Carla Ruas)

Every letter and poem at Write Night finds a reader, and participants leave with the young poets in mind. Free Minds members will get a reminder, Executive Director Tara Libert says, that “People believe in you. You’re not out of mind, though you may be out of sight. You’re not forgotten.”

If you are interested in participating in volunteer Write Night, please email Juliana Ratner, who will pass the information on to our volunteer coordinator.


Free Minds Launches Virtual Book Club- “Books Across the Miles!”


Demetrius shows off the list of vocabulary words he learned through Free Minds while in prison. The new BAM! initiative will enable more members to stay involved and learning.

We are excited to announce Books Across the Miles (BAM!), a new initiative funded with a generous grant from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and the support of the Eleanor Wilson Chapter to create a “virtual book club” for our members serving time in federal prisons.  Since DC does not have its own state prison, when youth at the DC Jail turn 18 and receive their sentences, they may be transferred to facilities as far-flung as California, Utah and New York.  Obviously, after transfer, they are no longer able to participate in Free Minds’ weekly book club sessions.  Reading and discussing a book with others is an incredibly powerful tool to motivate and excite new readers.  For this reason, Free Minds has launched BAM!

Since 2002, Free Minds has been sending individually tailored book selections to members in Federal Prison. Now, through BAM!, these members will also receive the same book every three months. In addition, they will receive a set of discussion questions and writing prompts about the book. Their responses will be featured in the monthly newsletter Free Minds Connect, which is sent to more than 130 young men in more than 37 prisons across the countries. Free Minds Connect offers a place for our members to engage in a written dialogue about the book they have read together.

RuinedOur members have just finished reading the first BAM! title, “Ruined,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage which looks at the atrocities of sexual abuse and rape committed against women by soldiers on both sides of the Congo’s civil war.  This is the first time many of our young men, including Michael, age 21, have ever experienced reading a play.

Michael wrote to us from a federal prison in Pennsylvania after reading “Ruined”:

I just read “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage, and I can honestly say I just got back on this compound. I was just in that small town in Congo at “Mama Nadi’s” LOL. I really did just zone out because I didn’t put the book down until I finished it. At first I was gonna read a certain amount of pages and call it a night. However, the suspense kept me reading from start to finish.....I (wanted to respond before) coming down from this “high” from having a Free Mind!

I learned that anyone in the path of war can become a victim.  The violence of war alters people’s lives by breaking up their families. I think the play is called “Ruined” because what a woman has is sacred. So once it’s unfitfully taken, a woman may feel “Ruined.”

As Michael’s comments, and those of our other members are published in the next issue of The Free Minds Connect, our first BAM! “virtual book club” discussion will begin!

Following is a poem that the play inspired Michael to write:

Youth Ruined
by Michael

My youth being snatched away from me
Before I ever had a chance to embrace it and enjoy it
My father being snatched to the grave
When I was just ten years old
Me thinking I was the man of the house
When I was just a boy
Me spending my 16th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st birthday
in a prison cell
Me looking back seeing what I’ve missed as a child
now I see why people say they wish they was a kid again
But it’s crazy because I never had a chance
To be a kid
Ruined my youth


Unlikely Brothers Author Michael Mattocks calls Book Club “One of my most powerful experiences”

Unlikely Brothers tells the story of two very different men, their lives, and the revelations brought by a twenty-five year friendship. Mattocks' story is one that Free Minds members found it easy to relate to: in his life he's gone from homeless youth, to grade-school dropout, to neighborhood drug dealer, to DC Jail inmate, to, finally, involved father and published author.


From left: Tara Libert, Free Minds Executive Director, Michael Mattocks, author of Unlikely Brothers, and Free Minds funders Kristin Lindsey, CEO of Global Fund for Children, and Victoria Dunning, Vice President for Programs of Global Fund for Children

"There was always a voice in my head," the author told the book club, referring to his eight months in jail, "saying 'keep planning.' There were other voices too, but I ignored them." The power of those plans is now evident in Mattocks’ appearances on the Today Show, the Diane Rehm Show, and a packed reading at Politics & Prose Bookstore.

But fame hasn't been easy for Mattocks, especially given the content of his books. "The hardest part of writing this book was bringing back all the stuff I did. I would break down. Every day, doing interviews, I get choked up -- but I bite my tongue. I have to."  

Since their audience was a published author, the members of course shared their poetry -- the poems they read are up on the writing blog right now.

Mattocks' story resonated with the young poets, especially when he described his early life. As he was leaving the unit, Free Minds poets lined up to shake his hand and thank him for coming. "You inspire me so much," one writer, D’Angelo, said.

Later, Mattocks expressed admiration for the Free Minds poets. "This is a talented bunch, and confident," he said, clearly moved by the atmosphere of book club. At the Politics & Prose Bookstore reading later that week, he recounted his time with the young men of Free Minds, calling it “One of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had.”

Watch interview with Mattocks here.

Free Minds featured grantee in DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities video!


Catalogue for Philanthropy’s blog “Good Works” Profiles Program Director Juliana Ratner


“Runaway Bestsellers”- Free Minds’ Love of Books Extends Even to the Finish Line

Executive Director Tara Libert and Reentry Coach Wilbert Avila represented Free Minds in style at the Washington DC RunAmuck Costume Race. Inspired by time spent running with Back on My Feet, Wilbert pushed Tara to expand her own horizons- although still with a literary leaning! Along those lines, Free Minds needs books! Click here for our new amazon.com wish list of requested titles!


Best-selling Author Jonathan Franzen Visits Book Club at DC Jail

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen (Left) and Brenda Ward (Right), Administrator of Special Projects, DC Department of Corrections

Award-winning author Jonathan Franzen visited the DC Jail last month for a special Book Club session with the Free Minds members as part of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation’s Writers in Schools program. Prepared with a long list of insightful questions for their guest, the young men on the juvenile unit discussed a range of topics with Mr. Franzen including overcoming writers’ block, the grief of losing loved ones, and pursuing your future.

(read more...)


Free Minds Poets Present at Conference: “Understanding and Responding to Violence”

On November 9, 2010, nearly 400 District court judges, prosecutors, court personnel, and community leaders gathered at the Washington Convention Center to examine issues of violence in the city. When the time came to discuss solutions, they turned to five Free Minds poets for advice.

Kelli Taylor and Tara Libert

Free Minds Members Speaking on the Panel

Keynote speaker Dr. John Rich, author of Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men, opened the event with a presentation of his research, which documents the stories of young men who have suffered from the effects of lifetime exposure to violence. At the close of his talk, Dr. Rich advocated the importance of narrative and being able to tell one’s story as a tool for healing and transformation, leaving the microphones open for Free Minds to take the stage.

With the full attention of 400 court personnel, Free Minds members Jermaine, Chris, Terrance, Delonte, and Will stepped up to the podium to perform both their own poetry and poems written by members who are still locked up. Keeping with the theme of the conference, Free Minds then presented a film featuring other Free Minds members discussing their experiences of growing up, being exposed to violence, and the role that reading and writing have played in shaping their futures. Poet Messiah concluded the session by delivering a letter from a senior Free Minds member who had first learned to read in jail. “For all these years I wanted to say to you please forgive me, but with my limited ability to read or write, I could not fully comprehend how to convey what I felt,” “I was ultimately helped learn to how to read by a Free Minds Book Club,” read Messiah, “I developed how to process my words, how to understand how and what caused me to act the way I did as a sixteen year old then, and how to improve myself now.”

As the audience rose to their feet at the conclusion of the presentation, their message to our young members was clear: we hear you.

Kelli Taylor and Tara Libert

Free Minds Members and Staff with Dr. John Rich (far right) and poet Messiah (center, fourth from left)

The excitement, pride, and confidence were clear in those who participated in the reading. In the short break that followed, the Free Minds participants were approached and congratulated by many audience members. The event was “a chance to give [members of the court] a different view and let them know what’s going on in our lives,” Chris said. “I think they really took heed to what we said,” Terrance continued, saying that the opportunity to speak at such an event will “give the guys who are still in jail a chance to be heard too.”

The conference continued with speakers and panelists from variety of city offices and community organizations, including representatives from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, victims’ rights groups, and the DC Metropolitan Police Department. At the end of the day, the atmosphere of the Convention Center was ripe with feelings of progress and collaboration. The warm reception that Free Minds received as a contributor in this conference was echoed when the Free Minds poets were asked to return and present at several other community events in the coming weeks.

Former Sudanese Child Soldier visits Free Minds

Read about it at The Washington Post!

On October 4th, international hip-hop star Emmanuel Jal visited Free Minds members in the DC Jail as our book club’s special guest author. Mr. Jal’s book, War Child, as well as the documentary of the same name, have been a favorite of our members, and they relished the opportunity to meet him.

Born in war-torn Sudan and recruited as a child soldier at an early age, Emmanuel Jal escaped his horrific past and eventually found healing through music, creativity, and artistic expression. As his music gained world-wide attention, Jal wrote about growing up in a world of violence and destruction – and how he was ultimately able to find peace – in his book War Child, which was also adapted into a documentary film by the same title.

(read more...)

Author George Pelecanos Visits Book Club

On a recent Thursday afternoon, the Free Minds Book Club was thrilled to host a visit from best-selling crime writer, George Pelecanos. The young book club members who gathered in the Correctional Treatment Facility’s chapel had just finished reading Pelecanos’ new release, The Way Home – a story set in the familiar streets of Washington, DC. The book describes the unsettled life of a white teenaged boy named Chris, who is charged with a violent assault and spends more than a year at “Pine Ridge,” a fictionalized version of Oak Hill, Washington, DC’s now-closed juvenile detention facility. The youth were overwhelmingly struck by Pelecanos’ very real depiction of DC life, as they know it.

(read more...)

The Community Hears Free Minds Poets!
Hear Us Out! 2009

Delonte performing

Nearly 500 people came to downtown Washington, DC to hear the words of incarcerated youth at the 6th Annual Free Minds Poetry Reading. The 6th & I Historic Synagogue was filled almost to capacity with family members, attorneys, judges, writers, artists, business people, schoolchildren, activists, neighbors, and regular DC residents who came to see what all the excitement was about. Guests brought donations of paperback books which would be distributed at the DC Jail. The evening was emceed by local favorite WKYS disc jockey, EZ Street, who warmed up the audience before introducing nine young Free Minds members who are now back home in the community. Each young man stood at the mic and read their own poetry as well as the words of their fellow members who are still incarcerated.

Audience members alternately laughed, cheered, and even cried upon hearing the hopes, dreams and regrets of poets like 18 year-old Delonte, who had been released from jail just one week earlier after being charged and incarcerated as an adult at the age of 16. In his poem, Change-Like Symptoms, Delonte described a desperate desire for a positive new direction.


Change-Like Symptoms

I refuse to stay in park and become rusty and old
I want my value to go up
So I’ll always be worth bein’ sold
You can be stubborn and stay the same
But I’ma make a quick change
Like a Lamda switching lanes
Tryin’ to get to its destination
One thing people fail to do
Is make change—a revelation
You need it to get places in life
Well I’ma make an upgrade
While you clowns stay in clown stage
I’m glad unique sticks to me like glue
I’m daring to be different
I’m feeling sick with change-like symptoms

It was his first time performing in front of an audience, and Delonte said he had to pray to make his knees stop shaking. Despite his nerves, the appreciation and applause of the crowd and the chance to give voice to the young men still behind bars made it all worth it. “I can’t wait to do this again next year!” he said.

The final piece was an original performed by nationally acclaimed poet, Messiah who had also served as a coach for the event, teaching the young men the art of spoken word performance.

The presentation concluded with the debut of “Hear Us Out!” a rap song written, produced and recorded by Free Minds members with the help of local artist Head-Roc. The song was received with wild applause and a promise by EZ Street to air it on the radio.

At a reception following the reading, guests enjoyed refreshments and mingled with the poets, buying hand silk-screened t-shirts and the Hear Us Out! poetry book which they then had autographed.

“This is my favorite part!” said 21 year-old poet and first-time performer Terrance as he signed a book for a woman who had driven all the way from New Jersey to attend the event.

To all of those who came, listened and heard, thank you for believing in our youth!

Read local press coverage of the event.

Hear excerpts of the poetry reading from Coffeehouse TV

Etan Thomas Leads Series of Writing Workshops

Etan Thomas visits Free Minds

“They brought a tall man to my cell!” one Free Minds member told his mother on the phone, so excited he momentarily forgot the name of his visitor. “We talked about poetry.” Already a prolific writer, the youth has been writing even more extensively since his encounter with 6’10’’ NBA Wizards player Etan Thomas.

Thomas, a published and dedicated poet as well as a basketball player, is leading a series of writing workshops for the members of Free Minds Book Club at DC Jail. In the first workshop, on May 1, 2009, Thomas spoke to the assembled teens about his own experiences as a youth, and his belief in the importance of the numerous small decisions that decide your path. Life is “just so many little choices,” he said, "but they have a big impact."

In that vein, a theme of the workshops has been responding to "haters" or people that don't want you to succeed. Thomas' own experience with haters was one of the things that motivated him to start writing, he told the youth. By channeling the frustration he felt when people told him he couldn't do something into poetry, he was able to move on and show them what he could do. “I started writing spoken word and poetry because I wanted to get it out,” Thomas told the Book Club. Then he performed one of his poems directed towards a coach who told him his dreams were impossible.

Free Minds poets have been writing their own poems about haters and performing them for each other. “People are going to tell you that you can’t make it, 'cause you made a mistake,” Thomas stressed, “and it’s up to you to believe them or not.”

After each workshop, Thomas returns to the unit to meet individually with book club members who were on lockdown and unable to attend the session. Talking through the crack in their cell door, Thomas reviews their work and offers critiques, as well as strong support to continue developing their craft. Etan encourages them to read as well. After he said that one of his favorite books is the Autobiography of Malcolm X, many Free Minds members requested the book to read immediately!

The excitement of the workshops is best expressed in the following poem by W.B., a 17 year old who wrote and performed it during Thomas' second workshop:

When I Get Out
By W.B.
May 15, 2009

When I get out
I’m gonna be the best man that I can be
I’m even gonna go to college
I can’t wait you’ll see
I can’t wait to see the opportunity that’s
Waiting for me on the other side of the door
The opportunity to be an electrician that I wanted to be
Or even more
I got a lot of things planned for me
When I get out
But first I’m gonna finish my last year of high school
And that’s without a doubt
I refuse to be a dummy
Not knowing nothing
I want to learn a new vocabulary
Without that slang and cussing
When I get out there I just can’t wait
Man I just can’t wait!


Free Minds Raises New Friends

Supporters old and new gathered at the elegant Marvin Bar and Bistro in Northwest DC on March 25th, to learn more about the work of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop. Guests loved the delicious soul food appetizers generously donated by Marvin, but more than anything they enjoyed the chance to meet Free Minds members themselves.

Left: Drew Williams shares his success story with the Marvin crowd. At the age of 17, Drew was incarcerated on robbery charges. Now 22, Drew has his GED and recently graduated from barber school. He has a full-time job cutting hair for a large and loyal clientele at a shop in NE DC. Drew plans to go to college and study business, and eventually open his own barbershop.

They came to spread the word about Free Minds and also to share their poems and stories, which were met with great acclaim.

Join our mailing list to learn more about events like this one!



Local Author Visits Free Minds Book Club

On Friday, February 27, 2009, guest author DaWayne Williams came to speak to the incarcerated youth of the Free Minds Book Club. The author of Reputations Fade Away, a true chronicle of his young adulthood on the streets of South East DC, Mr. Williams delivered an impassioned address to the young men. As he described his progression from violent drug dealer to accomplished author, Mr. Williams continually returned to one point: the power of your dreams.

DeWayne Williams“Your dream does not start the day you get out of here,” he declared to 14 young teens in orange jumpsuits. “Your dream starts the day you decide to believe in it.” Mr. Williams told the story of his life, from a difficult early childhood, to first shooting a gun at age 13, to the day he saw the movie Antwone Fisher and was inspired to write his own life story. “I learned how to write by writing this book,” he told the group. “Nobody helped me.”

L.W., 17, said that Reputations Fade Away was the first book he had ever read from front to back. “It was very cool,” he said, to meet the author face-to-face.

Book Club members asked Mr. Williams questions about the craft of writing. He stressed the importance of details such as powerful character names, as well as the benefits of consistent journaling.

He encouraged the youth of the Book Club to follow their creative dreams by getting a mentor, “hanging around people that do what you wanna do,” and not letting anyone tell you that you can’t achieve. “You also have to read and write,” he continued. “For you to be a writer you have to read books. You have to know your feelings, and you have to take it and write it in your own words.”

“Writing is good for your mind, “ he concluded, “and remember to protect your dream.”

At the end of the session, Book Club members wrote down their own personal goals and then took the opportunity to share them and speak individually with Mr. Williams.