“Each time I visit, I leave thoroughly impressed by these young men. The Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop has opened up the minds and hearts of a lot of these guys. Here, writing is used as a tool for them to express and heal themselves and that is extremely beneficial to their future.”

—-Etan Thomas, Washington Wizards player and author of More Than An Athlete

What We Do

Our Programs
Success Stories

Lamont Carey performance courtesy of Lamont Carey Entertainment.

Free Minds uses books and creative writing to empower young inmates to transform their lives. By mentoring and connecting them to supportive services throughout their entire incarceration into reentry, Free Minds inspires these youths to see their potential and achieve new educational and career goals.

Free Minds serves 16 and 17 year old youths who have been charged and incarcerated as adults at the DC Jail. Free Minds serves more than 250 youths each year across three successive phases: Book Club, Continuing Support, and Reentry Support.

Our Programs

Book Club & Writing Workshop

Free Minds recognizes that books and creative writing have the incredible power to teach, build community, inspire individuals and change lives. Our Book Club & Writing Workshop meets every week at the DC Jail where juvenile inmates come together to discuss a work of contemporary literature —an exciting experience for youths who have often had little meaningful exposure to books. The Book Club operates democratically with books chosen by majority vote. Members have chosen books like Makes Me Wanna Holler, Nathan McCall’s raw account of his troubled youth and his time behind bars, which allow them to feel a personal connection with a book and its author, often for the first time. Click here for a full list of books members have read together.

Past visitors have included Emmanuel Jal (War Child), Dwayne Betts (A Question of Freedom, Shahid Reads His Own Palm), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), George Pelecanos (The Way Home, The Wire), Kenji Jasper (Dark, Dakota Grand, Seeking Salamanca Mitchell,The House on Childress Street and Snow), James McBride (The Color Of Water and Miracle at St. Anna), Etan Thomas (More Than An Athlete) Dave Slater (contributing writer to DC Noir), Ellen McCarthy (staff writer for The Washington Post), and spoken word artist Messiah.

Each Book Club member receives a new dictionary and journal to encourage daily reading and writing. Free Minds staff and the larger community provide feedback for the young poets through our writing blog. Visit the Free Minds poetry blog.

Note from inmate

Continuing Support

The love for reading and writing that develops among so many members must continue to be cultivated. As DC has no long-term prison, at 18, members are transferred to federal prisons across the country. Many receive no letters or moral support from home and the isolation can be crippling. Each month, through the Continuing Support Program, Free Minds sends discussion questions, one new book, and creative writing and book review assignments to members who have turned 18 and been transferred to federal prison. Through regular written correspondence and a monthly newsletter (The Free Minds Connect), Free Minds strengthens relationships first built at the DC Jail and continues to monitor and assist members’ progress toward achieving their goals.

The newsletter features our Books Across the Miles! ‘virtual book club’. 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 over 150 young men in more than 37 prisons across the country. Free Minds Connect offers a place for our members to engage in a written dialogue about the book they have read together.

Literary Journal

In November of 2011, Free Minds was 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 Free Minds members held both at the DC Jail and in federal facilities across the country. This literary journal is being used as a tool for violence prevention and healing in Free Minds’s new initiative “On the Same Page,” and is also taught as part of college curricula at several Universities. Copies of They Call Me 299-359 are available for a suggested $10 donation. Please write mail@freemindsbookclub.org for more information.

Reentry Support

While some Free Minds members receive lengthy sentences, the majority of Free Minds members serve between three and seven years before they are released into the community. Building upon a sustained connection made in the Book Club and Continuing Support Programs, Free Minds connects its recently released members to the resources and programs in the community that will help them achieve their educational and career goals. Free Minds provides one-week paid apprenticeships in our office for recently-released members to receive invaluable job readiness and life skills. These apprenticeships are supervised and coordinated by a senior Free Minds member now employed as a “Reentry Coach,” providing peer guidance and connecting them to a network of positive support from their fellow Free Minds members. Each month Reentry Support members also work in the office assisting with Book Club lesson plans, writing for the Free Minds Connect newsletter and other program support activities. Giving back to the program is an important aspect of the Reentry Support phase. RS members form the core of Free Minds’s “On the Same Page” initiative (see below), where they practice their leadership skills and share from their own experiences to prevent youth violence and to educate and inspire others.

Note from inmate

Community Poetry Readings

Free Minds members who are now home read and discuss their own work and those of members still incarcerated through “On the Same Page: Free Minds Poetry in the Community and the Classroom.” These events, led by members themselves, offer a new way to engage with issues of youth violence and incarceration and to find healing through the powerful medium of creative writing. “On the Same Page” events are held with diverse audiences across the city. If you know of a class or group interested in hosting an event, please contact us at mail@freemindsbookclub.org.