FREE MINDS BOOK CLUB & WRITING WORKSHOP
Check out about the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, which uses the literary arts, workforce development, and violence prevention to connect incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth and adults with their voices, their purpose, and the wider community. Free Minds was founded by 3HO Luminary, Tara Libert.
PROJECT NAME: Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
COUNTRY: United States
CITY: Washington, DC
DESCRIPTION: The Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop uses the literary arts, workforce development, and violence prevention to connect incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youths and adults to their voices, their purpose, and the wider community.
PEOPLE SERVED: incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth and adults.
STARTING YEAR: 2002
PERSON IN CHARGE: Tara Libert (also a 3HO Luminary)
Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop - serving incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people
It all started in 1996, when young Glen McGinnis, already in prison for 5 years at that time, contacted Tara Libert and Kelli Taylor. Glen had received the death penalty in the state of Texas, USA, for a crime he had committed when he was still a teenager.
Glen's idea was to produce a documentary, which Tara and Kelli worked on, to try to save his life and the lives of several young people who had been sentenced as if they were adults. After the release of the documentary, Glen and Keli continued in contact for the next four years. Through books sent to Glen in prison, they were able to connect and transform their own lives, which had very different backgrounds and stories. Despite all their efforts, unfortunately they were not able to change Glen's death sentence.
Before he died, Glen said that he had a vision in which young people in the prison system could use reading and writing to free their minds. So even if their bodies were imprisoned, their minds could always be free through literature and freedom of expression.
Glen's execution in 2000 was a catalyst for action. In 2002, Tara and Kelli founded the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop and committed to spreading the life-changing power of reading, writing, and community building with teens in the Washington DC prison system.
PROGRAMS OFFERED BY THE PROJECT
Free Minds began as a biweekly program for youth who had been sentenced as adults in Washington's prison system. Upon their release or transfer to federal prison after they turned 18, Kelli and Executive Director Tara Libert realized that maintaining contact throughout their time in detention and beyond was vital to helping these young people positively redirect their lives.
Over the years, the project has been expanded to include reading clubs and writing workshops in local jails, juvenile detention centers, the federal prison system, and re-entry programs.
Re-entry programs include job training and placement, mentoring, legal advocacy opportunities, leadership development, and referrals to other services in the community that will help former inmates achieve their new educational and career goals.
Currently, Free Minds serves over 1,000 incarcerated and formerly incarcerated inmates in the Washington DC prison system.
THE PROGRAM DURING THE PANDEMIC
Currently, Free Minds has weekly programming that includes writing workshops, a writing blog on the project's website, training for educators, and more.
All the work of Free Minds had to be adapted to the changing circumstances of the CoronaVirus pandemic. The book clubs, which used to be done in person, in circles, now take place virtually, as do the writing workshops.
For the former inmates, an emergency fund was created, because 75% of the project members lost their jobs. This fund has received donations from all over the country. In addition, every week these ex-offenders can meet virtually to talk about their feelings and to share with the group about the difficulties they are going through.
Warren Allen, a former inmate we spoke with, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, of which he served 21 years. He was released in March 2021, so he was able to experience the impact of the pandemic inside prison. In the beginning, he says, there was not much information about how they should take care of themselves. There were no basic hygiene items, such as alcohol gel and antibacterial soaps.
Social isolation was not the biggest problem, as many were already used to a minimal level of activity. Warren continued to read books and occupy his mind as best he could. The big impact came when some inmates were diagnosed with Covid, which created a lot of anxiety.
After about 2 months from the start of the pandemic, things began to calm down. The inmates started to focus on extracurricular activities such as writing and reading workshops and virtual book clubs, which helped keep many sane.
To learn more about the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, go to www.freemindsbookclub.org
To support the project, please visit: https://freemindsbookclub.networkforgood.com