For nearly two decades, we have witnessed young Free Minds members evolve into men whom have become avid readers, students, leaders, advocates, authors, educators, role models, and change makers. With the transformative powers of reading and writing, our members have achieved success behind bars and as returning citizens.

Earlier this year, PBS NewsHour reached out to Free Minds to profile our innovative program model, which provides a safe space for members to both process and heal from trauma and envision new futures through reading, writing, and community building. Proven to help “free minds” of those incarcerated, reading and writing has helped our members achieve a 13% recidivism rate (compared to the national average of 75.9%), as well.

In a 6-minute segment, PBS NewsHour highlighted two programs: 

  • DC Jail Book Club: Weekly book club and writing workshop, which excites our members about reading, and writing through the provision of books, the publishing of their own writing, and inspirational author visits. In 2018, we expanded this program to include sessions on a new unit at the DC Jail specially designed for young adults (18-25).
  • Reentry Book Club: Once our members return home, they enter our third program, where we provide paid job readiness apprenticeships, a reentry book club and writing workshop, community engagement and support, and personalized connections to jobs and schools. Our members also give back to the program by serving as Poet Ambassadors and facilitating our community outreach project called On the Same Page: Free Minds Poetry in the Classroom and Community, in which they bring poetry and life stories to local schools, workplaces, and community groups to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of youth incarceration.

Cameras cut to Free Minds member Kamaal, who sits in a wide circle inside of the DC Jail with other Free Minds members, proudly sharing his short poem about incarceration, “Mind free, but incarcerated, that’s the truth. We need better guidance, starting with the youth. Close friends fade away, dead or in jail. The traumatic situations push most to fail.” Our DC Jail Book Club members then transition into reading Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a fictional story of a young woman named Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, who leave a party together and are pulled over by a white police officer who kills Khalil. The book discusses racism and police brutality—two themes our members personally identify with—which sparks a conversation about identity and violence in their communities. Free Minds member Bikila expresses, “Individuals, as early as middle school age, face the same trauma as soldiers in Iraq. It’s either kill-or-be-killed.”

In response to a question posed by Senior Correspondent and Chief Arts Correspondent Jeffrey Brown about how much of what members learn come from reading and writing, Free Minds member Michael responds, “Having that space to express and to heal, to listen, to get the different, the varying perspectives is growth and is therapeutic.”

In the second half of the segment, Jeffrey Brown follows Joshua Samuel who first joined Free Minds Book Club at age 16, while serving time in the DC Jail. Now, Joshua serves as the 2019 Congressman John Lewis Fellow, a yearlong paid fellowship that employs a Free Minds member to lead our violence prevention project, On the Same Page, which uses poetry and storytelling to reach all D.M.V. youth, but particularly those who exhibit opportunity for behavioral and academic growth.

Together, Joshua  and Poet Ambassador David, who became a Free Minds member as a teen, engage the young students of Hopeful HoriSONS, a non-profit organization that targets academic and social-emotional areas of growth for Black youth. Seeing a lot of himself in the young students, Joshua expresses to Jeffrey, “Just because they come from poverty, broken homes, certain backgrounds, or have been discriminated against, they don’t have to end up in a situation that I ended up in. Showing them that education, reading, and writing are tools and an escape, it’s a substitute from the condition that they’re in.”


a man in an orange jumpsuit holding a book in his lap

Click the image above to watch the full segment!

Thank you PBS NewsHour for highlighting our innovative program and ways that our young people can access healthy and creative outlets!

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