On two separate days in July, Free Minds shared its message of hope with groups of eager young students from Reach Incorporated and Encounter the Gospel of Life. 

On Friday, July 8, a Free Minds team visited two groups of approximately 15 teenagers that were participating in the Reach Incorporated summer program focused on reading, writing, philanthropy, and career preparation. The group hosted two separate 45-minute sessions with a focus on the power of reading, writing, and creative expression.

Reach Incorporated students reading

Reach Incorporated students reading The Untold Story of the Real Me

Free Minds Co-founder and Executive Director Tara Libert opened the sessions by asking the students to share what reading and writing meant to them. She then gave an overview of Free Minds’ mission and led a short discussion about the title of Free Minds’ poetry anthology, The Untold Story of the Real Me.

Following this introduction, Free Minds Poet Ambassadors Juan and Carlos shared their stories as the Reach students listened attentively. Each student then went around the room, reading one line from a poem. Afterwards, the teens shared which lines they related to the most and why.

A few days later, on the evening of Tuesday, July 12, Free Minds met with Encounter the Gospel of Life, this time focused on a theme of mercy. For nearly two hours, approximately 300 campers and adults listened to stories, engaged with Poet Ambassadors, and wrote comments on Free Minds members’ poetry.

Charlie reading from literary journal

Charlie reads an autobiographical vignette from The Untold Story of the Real Me

Poet Ambassadors Charlie, Juan, and Calvin talked about their experiences before, during, and after their incarcerations. Charlie told the captivated audience about his struggles with reading and writing as a teen and the pressures he felt because of this. Juan discussed how he took wrong turns while trying to follow an image of his father. Calvin shared the injustice he went through after being convicted of a crime he did not commit.

The Encounter campers then got to work reading and commenting on poetry from incarcerated Free Minds members, as Juan and Calvin were swarmed by groups of teens eager to discuss what the Poet Ambassadors had shared.

Mark Hecker, Executive Director of Reach, said that the Poet Ambassadors brought a uniquely relatable presence to the event. “The perspective that Free Minds brings is important because our kids are still in the same community [as they were],” he said. “They are credible and real.”

After the Encounter event, Libert said she valued the chance to give a group of teenagers a tangible action. “I feel good that we can give them something active to do, like write comments on a poem and share the program. It’s good to see that young kids really want to help and listen and spread the word,” she said.

The Encounter event gave Poet Ambassador Calvin a chance to see how his story could make a difference. “The best part about it was seeing the impact of sharing my personal story and poetry. I didn’t know it would have such an impact. I didn’t understand the magnitude of it.”

Reach Incorporated

Free Minds staff and Poet Ambassadors with students from Reach Incorporated

Juan speaks to Encounter group

Poet Ambassador Juan speaks to the crowd at Encounter the Gospel of Life

Poet Ambassadors on stage at Encounter

Charlie, Calvin, and Juan sharing their stories with 300 teenagers and adults from Encounter


By Emma Soler, Free Minds Volunteer

1 Comment

  1. Ann Gradowski on July 30, 2016 at 8:59 AM

    We were so grateful to have Freeminds work with our program EGL – the impact was like no other program we had ever had. Adults and youth alike left our week with such open hearts and minds- and their comments on the poems were evident of that. Thanks Tara, Charlie, Juan, Calvin and Emma!

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