Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop launched its book club at New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Fall 2018. A residential treatment facility for youths, the development center provides rehabilitation and planning for young people through educational services, workforce development, health care, and community engagement.
In October 2018, new legislation went into effect in DC stating that all youths charged as adults will now be housed in a juvenile detention center until they turn 18 or are released. Previously, these young people were incarcerated at the DC Jail, where Free Minds led weekly book club and writing workshop sessions. Free Minds is now working with the youths at New Beginnings, DC’s juvenile detention facility, and we kicked off this new phase in style with a visit from author Tiffany D. Jackson.
A Brooklyn, NY born graduate of Howard University, Jackson is a self-proclaimed, “TV professional by day, novelist by night, awkward black girl 24/7.” When most of us were just learning how to write our name at the age of four, Jackson was already setting her mind on winning a Pulitzer Prize. When she grew up, she worked in television for several years before taking a leap of faith and deciding to take a year off to pursue her childhood passion full-time.
Now, Jackson is the author of the critically acclaimed Allegedly (2017), which according to her is loosely inspired by a 2012 case of a 10-year old Maine girl charged with the death of an infant—the youngest person to be charged with manslaughter in Maine in at least 25 years. Pulling inspiration from interviewees, such as young women (ages 18-23) who lived through youth detention centers and group homes, Jackson was determined to write a book that would “spread awareness on young teenage girl issues.” Her book follows the story of a sixteen-year-old girl, now living in a group home, who was convicted of killing a baby at the age of nine. Despite receiving 55 rejections of her manuscript over the course of 5 years, she told herself, “Life is all about rejections. Rejections come, but you have to keep pushing. I had to be confident in myself and perseverance is important.”
Sitting on the edge of the stage at New Beginnings Youth Development Center, DC’s juvenile detention facility, Jackson read excerpts from Allegedly in a packed auditorium filled with our 16- and 17-year-old Free Minds members. Jackson took a moment to express the importance of sharing your story, stating, “I was inspired to write after attending a predominantly white high school where I experienced macroaggressions and racism. Writing became my escape. I was in my own world and could just be there. I want you guys to read about people’s stories, but I also want you guys to read about each other’s. I hope these book clubs inspire you to tell your own stories.”
Moved by her words of advice, Free Minds member JC shared, “She inspired me to see that I can go for my goals. I want to write two books.”
Huge thanks to those at the Open Book Foundation for bringing Tiffany D. Jackson to New Beginnings to meet and speak with our young incarcerated members, as well as providing each member with their own personal copy of Allegedly! Thank you as well to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and Maya Angelou Academy for making this possible!