Paulo was just 17 years old when he was charged and incarcerated as an adult at the DC Jail.

When he looks back he sees a lost young man with no goals or dreams. “I didn’t think much about my future or my life. I lived day-by-day. I was too preoccupied with hanging out with my friends, stealing and causing problems,” he says now.

“I didn’t like to read or write before I came to prison,” says Paulo. “It bored me…I was in the 10th grade and I didn’t even know how to compose a complete sentence.”

Paulo's GED graduation

Paulo graduates from the GED program at Petersburg Federal Prison

All of that changed when Paulo joined Free Minds. Initially, the first time he was told it was time for “Book Club,” Paulo attended only because he was so desperate to leave the isolation of his cell. But it was that one Monday morning that he says helped him change his life.

“Thanks to Free Minds, I now place a great value in books and in writing,” he says. “I have come to understand why so many people hold on to their books and writing as a treasure…Free Minds has taught me how to select books and how to value them, and in writing, how to free my mind and be creative. What it has emphasized to me, moreover, is that reading and writing are fun! Free Minds was the kick a car needs to sometimes start.”

Since his transfer to federal prison, Paulo has remained in touch with Free Minds. He not only receives letters regularly, but also new books. “Every book that I have received from Free Minds has taught me something. I always learn something form a book whether it’s a new word, a new writing style, or a new idea,” he says. “Books are always leaving a mark on my life.” The book that has had the greatest impact upon Paulo is A Place to Stand, the autobiography of acclaimed poet Jimmy Santiago Baca. “He writes about what I’m going through,” Paulo says. “I speak not of the physical, but of the mental struggles and of how he dealt with them. I see myself following his footsteps.”

Paulo also writes to his Free Minds volunteer pen pal, Kristen. “Over the years, I never thought that I would meet someone like my pen pal,” he says. “It is people like her that make one reflect upon one’s life.”

Paulo has come a very long way since he first came to Free Minds at the DC jail in 2003. He has not only earned his GED, but he now teaches courses to other inmates in federal prison helping them to pursue higher education. In 2007, he and a partner developed a seminar to teach other inmates how to get their GED and earn a bachelor’s degree while incarcerated. Paulo has already successfully completed three college courses and earned high grades in all of them. He plans to obtain his undergraduate degree and then pursue graduate school to become a psychologist.

“Changes are happening everyday in my life,” Paulo says. “I see myself as more mature…I have become more caring and responsible. Finally, I have changed my entire perspective on how I should live my life.”

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