Michael is in love with learning and knowledge, yet he never attended a high school prom, studied for final exams, or had to learn a locker combination.
Michael spent nearly the entirety of his teenage years behind bars. After being released in August 2011, he worked for Free Minds as our Reentry Coach. Now, he is transitioning into a new role as our Community Outreach Coordinator while he works full-time at the Howard Theatre. Congratulations Michael! We are confident that he will continue to do great things in the new chapter of his life.
Michael was born in Washington, DC in 1989. Michael had little to no contact with his mother and father, and was raised by his aunt and grandmother. He was arrested for the first time when he was just 12 years old.
Free Minds first met Michael when he was incarcerated at 17. “I was on solitary confinement when the people from Free Minds came and asked me if I wanted a book. I knew how to read, but I was never really interested in reading books. It just didn’t seem like those books were for me. At the same time, teachers just kept promoting me to the next grade,” he recalls. The sense of accomplishment that Michael felt when he finished that first book encouraged him to join Free Minds’s weekly book club. One book led to another and he became a voracious reader, requesting titles on everything from how to break into real estate, to biographies and a rhyming dictionary to use in his song writing. Michael said the difference was that Free Minds gave him books that meant something to him.
“Books like Nathan McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler and Dwayne Betts’ A Question of Freedom—those are people just like me who changed their lives. These books showed me that it was possible. Reading all kinds of books just pulled me in, and reading the words of others showed me a whole new way to express myself. Now I write poems and songs every single day. Free Minds helped me believe that I could make it through, and made me realize that my mind wasn’t in jail. Instead my mind could be on all of the possibilities!”
In the last year, Michael has discovered all kinds of possibilities. Now he has thoughts about furthering his education by one day attending college. In addition to working for Free Minds and for Howard Theatre, he also writes a blog for Campaign for Youth Justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
Michael recently won the Washington Peace Center Activist Award for his efforts to end the school to prison pipeline. Free Minds attended the annual Activist Awards gala in support of Michael. He was honored along with nine other activists. It was a great evening for all and an amazing opportunity for such a dedicated member of the Free Minds community.
In May 2012, Michael was part of a coalition that met with Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to issue new regulations protecting children in adult jails and prisons from sexual abuse. The coalition’s message was heard; the Department of Justice issued these regulations immediately following their meeting. This is an important step towards protecting vulnerable children in adult jails and prisons. Read the press release. We can’t wait to see what Michael will achieve next!