I want to thank you all for your companionship and the books that you all have been sending me over the years. I will continue to write poetry for Free Minds and for everyone else to read because you all encourage me to pursue my ambitions and that is to become a better learner everyday.

– Nokomis, Age 22

Sample Poetry

In My Mind

by PJ

In my mind’s eye,
I see so many things.
I’ve been frozen for eternity,
forever preserving
their beauty and sentimentality.

In my mind,
they can remain untouched,
perfect that way,
as beautiful as I perceived
them to be when beheld

Forever: sunny days,
forever rainy and gray,
forever pretty.
the lady who captured
my imagination.
Forever: people, days
and bright thoughts.

In my mind’s eye,
frozen in time.
Periodically, I review
their beauty and sentimentality,
through the lens of a
cloudy eye: bleary,
clearing as my mind progresses
through each cherished memory.

Pen Fiend

by D.W.

As I sit back
And operate this pen
In my mind
I feel like I’m a pen fiend
Sick with words
Sick with the pen
Whoa! Just had a brain freeze
Right back at it
Like your every day dope addict
Sick, can’t go without it
Got to write about it
In my eyes
I see the light
And only I can see what to write
Every day and night
I think, am I doing what’s right?
This is my life
Some say pray to Christ
But every time I think about it
I am back writin’ with the pen
Sick with so many emotions
And no one to talk to
So who can I turn to
But my pen
I’m just your every day pen fiend

When You Hear Me (You Hear Us): Voices on Youth Incarceration

Cover art for the book When You Hear Me (You Hear Us): Voices on Youth Incarceration. Image shows a young man in orange holding a microphone that is shaped like a pencil, with the title text emerging in a speech bubble. He is surrounded by various figures, some in orange uniforms, some not. They are shown to be writing, speaking, or reading.Free Minds released When You Hear Me (You Hear Us): Voices on Youth Incarceration in 2021. This is an anthology of poetry and personal stories centering the voices of those directly impacted by the incarceration of young people in the United States. This rich collection includes firsthand accounts from both the young people charged and incarcerated in the adult criminal legal system and from the community at large: the mothers, the loved ones, the correctional staff, public defenders, prosecutors, and others harmed and left with unhealed trauma. These critical voices, uniquely combined, illustrate the ecosystem that surrounds youth who are incarcerated--and expose the ripple effects that touch us all. This book challenges us to hear these voices calling out for accountability, transformative justice, and healing. Together, they demonstrate the collective impact of the prison system, and our collective responsibility to create a society where every one of us can thrive.

  • A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

  • “A powerful, devastating, essential read” - Starred review in Kirkus Reviews

Copies are available for purchase through our publisher, Shout Mouse Press. Click here to order When You Hear Me (You Hear Us).

The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison

Literary Journal CoverFree Minds released the anthology entitled The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices From Prison in 2015. This anthology contains a collection of poems exploring a variety of complex themes, including parenthood, love, pain, identity, race, and freedom. All of the poems were written by Free Minds members who were charged and incarcerated as adults at the age of 16 or 17. In addition, this anthology features individual profiles of Free Minds members who are home from prison and serving as Poet Ambassadors at “On the Same Page” youth violence prevention events. It is being used in classrooms and workshops to start conversations around youth violence and the carceral system, The Untold Story of the Real Me provides a new take on the power of one’s voice.

Copies are available for purchase through our publisher, Shout Mouse Press. Click here to order The Untold Story of the Real Me.

They Called Me 299-359: Poetry by the Incarcerated Youth of Free Minds

Book cover: illustration of a fist gripping a pencil with handcuffs falling open around the wrist. Title: They Called Me 299-359They Called Me 299-359: Poetry by the Incarcerated Youth of Free Minds is the 10th anniversary edition of They Call Me 299-359, originally published in 2011. This anthology displays the transformation and redemption of Free Minds members reclaiming their humanity and identity from a system that seeks to strip them of both. Through moving personal testimony, these young writers explore the challenges and pain of incarceration as well as family, forgiveness, redemption, and dreams. This edition includes updated forewords from Free Minds Poet Ambassadors as well as from the award-winning formerly incarcerated poet Reginald Dwayne Betts (Shahid Reads His Own Palm, Felon: Poems). Copies are available through our publisher, Shout Mouse Press. Click here to order They Called Me 299-359.

My World

by JG

I was born into a world where the only language men understand is violence and you have to be trained to go at the drop of a hat. Displaying physical aggression at any given moment. Gun, knife, or a bat, or hand to hand combat, you never knew. You just had to be ready to work with no hesitation.

A world where your reputation is everything, it can make or break you.
A world where it’s best to simply stay in your lane, play your role. Because when you try to step outside of yourself into someone else’s position, it’s only a matter of time before those that occupy that same position figure out that you don’t belong there. Then exposure can and will take place.

And in the world I was born into, exposure can be a matter of life and death… I was born into a world where there’s no such as thing as meek, either you’re strong or you’re weak. Predator or prey. Any chance of finding a grey area is slim to none.
A world where manhood is defined by how many girls you can have sex with, how much money you have, and whether your guns goes off or not.

A world where extortions, armed robberies and drug dealings are a part of everyday activities, from sun up to sun down. A world where the probability of your death being a homicide is much higher… I was born into a world where most people who don’t know how to cope with the pain of their struggle try to numb it with drugs and alcohol.

A world full of so much potential but the people have endured centuries of brain-washing that has taught them to hate themselves. The young man doesn’t value his own life much at all, so he surely won’t think twice about taking yours. The young woman will sell her body to you for a dime rock, a dippa or an E-Pill. How much value can she possibly be putting on herself?

A world where we’re conditioned from early on to believe that somehow being educated and well spoken is lame and un-cool. A world where the gentleman generally doesn’t exist because we’ve been terribly misinformed, whether it was directly or indirectly as to how we’re supposed to treat women. I was born into a world where most never escape, and blessed are the few that do…

I was born into a world where it’s not nearly as glamorous as mega-media would have you believe. It’s an everyday struggle to simply survive. I just wish that all of my brothers and sisters in the struggle the best. I would love to see my world rise above the current state of mind, back into our original state consciousness. I’ve highlighted the problems, but I choose to be a part of the solution. I will start by being the change I would like to see in the world. The more I learn, the more I will grow, the more I will rise and shine and be a source of light for others.


by R.B

Brick walls, fences, and razor wire criss-crossed in a bind

Feelings overlooked ‘cause remorse is the punishment of crime

No warmth lives here but the wind that chilled

Where it’s a lot of counterfeit ‘cause fake outweigh the real

Not always behind walls and locked doors while doing time

But in the outside world, incarcerated in the mind

Not always what it seems, sometimes a blessing

Only what you make of it, not always unpleasant

A learning experience that’s strongly reckoned with

A chapter of one’s life that’ll never just shift

Forever with you, there all the way to the end

But what will you gain? Strength? Or will you bend?


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