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From the Field: Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop

By Marie LeBlanc, Community Partnerships Coordinator

Many great individuals have written about the power of a free mind — authors, scientists, philosophers, musicians. Perhaps none have written quite as eloquently as the young poets who work with . Free Minds, a Catalogue nonprofit for the past five years, “serves 16 and 17 year old youths who have been charged and incarcerated as adults at the DC Jail. Free Minds uses books and creative writing to empower young inmates to transform their lives.”

This week, I had the privilege of reading and commenting on poems written by Free Minds poets at Volunteer Write Night — a monthly event in which Free Minds staff, members, and volunteers meet to mingle, read inmates’ poetry and offer their own personal feedback. The poems, with comments, are then mailed back to their authors, and provide a bright spot of both artistic feedback and communication with the outside world for those who are currently removed from it.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was blown away by the maturity, honesty, and emotional depth expressed in Free Minds’ poetry. The poems touched on every range of emotions related to their experience in the system — from missing a girlfriend or family members, to the hurt, frustration, and loneliness that comes with time spent in jail. While I cannot relate to all of the poets’ experiences, I can relate to their responses — after all, who hasn’t experienced pain, hurt, or despair at one time in their life?

Overall, I found many poems to be incredibly uplifting and inspirational. The young poets’ words expressed how they became adults in such a short time and learned life lessons the hard way, but have become better people because of it. Bridging the divides of race, class, gender, or legal status and connecting with another person through art — this is a crucial aspect of Free Minds’ program, and Write Night is an incredible volunteer opportunity that fosters those connections.

For those interested in volunteering, Write Night is held on the fourth Tuesday of every month. You can also read poetry written by incarcerated members of Free Minds online at their .




Photos courtesy of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop

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