Free Minds is 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 youth from Washington DC.

Every year more than 60 teenaged boys from Washington DC are charged and incarcerated as adults for felony crimes. Some are eventually found innocent and released, other go on to serve sentences that range from a year to life. When they turn 18, they are transferred from DC Jail to federal prisons.

They Call Me 299-359” contains hundreds of poems and essays written by those young men behind bars. After a call went out for submissions to the anthology, entries flooded in from young men around the country to the editorial panel of three—Kenneth, Jonas and Paulo, who are also locked up.

Editor Paulo says: “Writing has reshaped my life and thoughts. It has given me ideas of how to see and live life in a positive spin. Through my writing, I have come to speak to the world.”

Happy Hour for Word Power attendees

Happy Hour for Word Power attendees smile at being the first to receive the new literary journal (Photo Ryan Corl)

The idea for the book grew out of the reaction of families, audiences, law enforcement and judges to public readings of poems and essays from DC’s young inmates. “They Call Me 299-359 gives voice to teens who have grown up in some of Washington DC’s most violent and impoverished neighborhoods. Its authors paint a picture of struggle and fears, but also hope for change and redemption,” says Kelli Taylor, Free Minds Co-Founder and Board Chair.

Josh reads poetry

Free Minds Member Josh shares excerpts from the new collection (Photo Ryan Corl)

Free Minds members home in the community read excerpts from the collection to a packed and attentive crowd attending our “Happy Hour for Word Power”. One attendee who had never heard of Free Minds before being brought by a friend to the event said that hearing the writing gave him hope, “and it really helped me see the person behind the number.”

Copies of They Call Me 299-359 are available for a donation. If you would like to obtain the book, please contact the Program Director, Juliana Ratner, at juliana@freemindsbookclub.org or 202.758.0829.

Free Minds is also using the book as a teaching tool as part of its “On the Same Page: Free Minds Poetry in the Community” initiative. If you know of a class or organization that would be interested in having Free Minds Poets present, please contact Juliana.

Literary journal cover artThey Call Me 299-359
By DW

Orange jumpsuit, shower shoes and an arm band
Lost in a cold dream called prison
Four sharp corners, eggshell paint, dusty gray floor
No tears, just my pen in action
They call me 299-359
I push the pen so that I remain happy
Mama and Daddy, these are the unspoken words of your baby’s diary
My orange jumpsuit and number are only the book cover
So please don’t judge
My words are as pure as gold
Not aware of the success these lines hold
I operate this pen to fight the war mentality
So please understand me
They call me 299-359
Orange jumpsuit, shower shoes and an arm band

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