Free Minds uses books and creative writing to empower incarcerated youth and adults, awakening them to their own potential. During biweekly workshops at New Beginnings Youth Development Center (for teens) and the DC Jail (for adults), Free Minds members read stories and poetry that reflect their lives – and then learn to write (and even publish) their own. After sentencing, when members move on to federal prisons across the country, Free Minds sends cards, newsletters, books, and feedback on their poetry. The re-entry program offers a weekly book club and writing workshops, apprenticeships, and job skills training to help members achieve their goals for a successful homecoming. In 2018, Free Minds served more than 900 individuals and achieved a recidivism rate of just 13%, compared to the national average of 75% for young adults – an extraordinary achievement. Your support turns lives around.
COVID-19 Update: Most programming transitioned to online and Free Minds is providing virtual book club sessions where possible. It continues to hold its Reentry Book Club, albeit virtually, with over 60 members participating weekly. To mitigate the mental stressors of the pandemic, it has sent over 6,500 bi-weekly packets to incarcerated members consisting of writing prompts, meditations, and encouraging messages. Sustaining the system of support is invaluable for members like Alex, who wrote recently, "No other sentiment than love can possibly express the gratitude people like m, feel for such wonderful people as you guys at Free Minds."
Headquarters: DC-Ward 2
Where They Operate: DC-Citywide
Age Groups Served: Pre-teen/teen (12-17); Young adult (18-24); Adult (25-49)
Population(s) Served: Men/Boys; ; Low- to Moderate-Income Community Members
Schools They Work In: Free Minds works with the DC Incarcerated Youth Program (http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/incarcerated+youth)
- Number of people (clients, patrons, students, etc) we serve annually:
- Number of volunteers who work with us annually:
- Number of books (textbooks, school supplies) distributed/donated annually:
- Percentage of Free Minds members who do not recidivate:
Awards & Recognition
May 2010, National Book Foundation INNOVATIONS IN READING Prize.
2012, Mayor's Arts Award for OUTSTANDING ARTS EDUCATION.
2014-2015, Corrections Information Council BEST PRACTICES.
2015, Library of Congress BEST PRACTICES IN LITERACY Award.
May 2015, Council for Court Excellence JUSTICE POTTER STEWART Award.
June 2015, Aspen Institute ASPEN IDEAS Award.
- Aspen Ideas: Helping prison inmates turn the page through poetry
Sun Jul 3 2016, The Aspen Times
Stacks of poems were piled on tables at the Mountain Chalet on Tuesday afternoon, the verses passed around among a group of writers...
- 'Free Minds Book Club' empowers young inmates in DC Jail
Wed Mar 16 2016, ABC7
The Shakespeare Theatre in the District is holding a special poetry reading.
- Atlanta Congressman, Civil Rights icon John Lewis visits D.C. Jail inmates
Thu Feb 25 2016, ABC7
Atlanta Congressman John Lewis was arrested as one of the "big six" leaders of the Civil Rights movement.
- Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis encourages teens at D.C. jail
Wed Feb 24 2016, The Washington Post
In the chapel at the juvenile housing unit in the D.C. jail, Deangelo Johnson chewed on his bottom lip as he sat shoulder to shoulder...
- John Lewis talks about his graphic novel - and his amazing life - to teenagers in jail
Wed Feb 24 2016, Yahoo News
Rep. John Lewis sits in a circle of chairs among 20 incarcerated teenagers.
- $3 million or higher
- $1 million to $3 million
- The current budget for Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop is: $500k to $1 million
- Less than $500k
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