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.

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Free Minds Launches Virtual Book Club

Demetrius in the office

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 country. Free Minds Connect offers a place for our members to engage in a written dialogue about the book they have read together.

Our members have just finished reading the first BAM! title,“Ruined,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage that 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”:

Ruined coverI 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


Daughters of the American Revolution

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.

“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.

Runaway Bestsellers

Free Minds’ Love of Books Extends Even to the Finish Line

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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. Read More