Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop is spreading the message of “books and belonging,” as we like to say, on a national platform! We had the pleasure of inviting C-SPAN 2’s Book TV crew into the DC Jail to film one of our book club sessions in its entirety.

Book TV filmed and produced a segment documenting our book club on the education unit at the DC Jail, with Free Minds Book Club Facilitators Clint Smith and Stacey Houston. The book club on the education unit meets biweekly, with book club members—many of whom had little to no exposure to literature prior joining the club—coming together to read, engage in group discussion, and write and share poetry.

Close up of hands holding the book The Things They Carried

During this session, Free Minds members discussed Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting on the ground in the Vietnam War. During the session, many of our members made connections between their own experiences and the experiences of the soldiers in the novel.

Free Minds member Jonas said, “Prison is hard to explain just like in the book and a lot of these stories […] Everyday, it’s a fight to stay sane. We find strength in each other (in the book club) by talking to each other, building with each other, and trying to be as creative and productive as we can be […] this book can help people understand what we go through.”

A group of men in orange jumpsuits sitting in a row with books

Click here to watch the full segment

We also held a special viewing of the segment on the education unit at the DC Jail. While the nine book club members who had been on camera watched the show, dozens more men on the unit gathered to watch as well, often “snapping” along in celebration after the members read poems on-screen.

Collectively, members agreed that watching themselves on television and seeing the positive feedback has been inspiring and invigorating. Free Minds member Leonard stated, “Since I have been in this club, I have wanted to start writing more. It’s changing me in a good way.”

“It’s important to put that out there that prisoners aren’t what the media makes us out to be,” said Free Minds member Jonas after hearing the uplifting comments viewers at home left on social media.

Free Minds received a multitude of moving responses to the segment; staff collected the feedback and shared it with the book club members at the jail. One such commenter said, “I’m impressed with the insight these men had. The Book Club is certainly a valuable asset and I hope more inmates seek out this club and other opportunities. It was clear that through the book, they learned a lot about themselves and their reflections on their lives was so interesting. I wish them all the best. Each one of them is certainly a lot more than a prisoner number.”

We’re thankful to everyone who has taken the time to listen to our members and help us spread the word about books and creative writing. Thank you to CPSAN 2, Book TV, and the DC Department of Corrections for believing in our mission and making this possible.

Two men in orange jumpsuits reading The Things They Carried

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