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7 Questions – Juliana Ratner (Free Minds Book Club)

Welcome to “7 Questions” … Juliana Ratner, Program Director of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop. The club meets weekly at the DC Jail, exploring literature and creative writing and empowering young inmates to transform their lives. Learn more!

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

Every day is an interesting project with this job! On Friday, however, we hosted guest writer Michael Mattocks, co-author of the memoir Unlikely Brothers, in book club. That day book club met on the unit itself, where the acoustics are bad and it’s hard to hear, and all the book club members were so focused and attentive. Michael talked about his journey from drug dealing and incarceration to being an involved and responsible father of five boys, and what writing a book had taught him — and they were full of questions and eager to read their own writing aloud. Afterwards Michael said that it had been one of the most powerful moments of his life, to have the opportunity to share his story with them, and to hear their poetry.

2. What else are you up to?

We’re in the process of producing a literary journal of our member’s work. We do a book every year, but this year we’re taking it to the next level. The journal has an editorial board of four Free Minds members, three of whom are in prison and one of whom is home. They have been in charge of every aspect of the book, from selecting the themes for each section to doing the final pick of poems, and it has been amazing to watch. They are committed and insightful editors and so deeply pleased to be able to give back in a positive way, especially if it can influence other people’s lives and choices.

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