Dear Family, Friends and Supporters of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop,
In late November 2002, the first Free Minds Book Club session was held in a drab cinderblock classroom that doubles as the chapel inside of the DC Jail. On that first day, two very green volunteers—myself and co-founder Kelli Taylor—had no idea what to expect when more than twenty teenage boys wearing orange jumpsuits filed into the room and picked up a book, and neither did the young men. What we all discovered that day, and over the last eight years, is that books and creative writing have the incredible power to teach, build community, inspire individuals and change lives. Since then, Free Minds has served more than 400 youths ages 16 and 17 who have been charged and incarcerated as adults at the DC Jail. We use books and creative writing to ignite a desire for learning and empower these young men to pursue education instead of crime. By mentoring and connecting them to supportive services throughout their incarceration and into reentry, Free Minds inspires them to see their potential and transform their own futures.
I am writing to ask you for your support. Too many of our young people in DC are still coming through the gates of the DC Jail. Free Minds wants to expose each and every one of them to the power of literature, but we can only continue to do so with your help!
In 2005, we met a hard 17 year-old boy named Darnell. Both of Darnell’s parents died when he was a child, and when we asked, he told us he was raised by the streets. Early on, Darnell said he did not like books and did not plan on reading anything that we brought to him. He acted out often and disrupted our sessions. However, one of the few poems he did write was revealing:
Why did my mother and father have to lose their lives?
Why did they die and leave me with no one?
No one except my heart and loving myself
No one else
One day, while talking with Darnell about growing up without any role models or guidance, I suggested he might like Hill Harper’s Letters to a Young Brother, a book of advice and encouragement for young African American males. He had never before read a book from cover to cover. After completing it, Darnell was hooked! He thanked us excitedly and said he was ready for more. That was several years ago, and recently, Darnell wrote to us from federal prison after receiving the latest delivery of new titles:
I used to think that if I read books, people would think I was a nerd. But now I know they are a meditation and a relief. Reading is so important to me now! Through a book, I can witness another person’s point of view about life. Books make me feel like I can do anything with the right tools: knowledge, encouragement, and wisdom.
Darnell will be coming home soon. He has obtained his GED in prison, and is excited to attend college. With your support, Free Minds will continue to be in a position to assist him, finding placement in a job readiness or vocational training program when he is released so that he can find sustainable employment, a home, and hopefully enroll in school. Perhaps most importantly, we can provide him with a supportive community of friends, mentors and other young men like himself who have successfully navigated coming home.
If you are planning your end-of-the-year charitable giving, please consider a gift to Free Minds. Your support will allow us to continue providing books, journals and dictionaries for the teens currently at the DC Jail. It will pay for shipping to order new books for our members serving time in federal prison. It will cover the postage for hundreds of encouraging letters sent to youth in prison each year urging them to remain strong and true to their new goals. It will buy metro cards so that young men recently home from prison can get to and from school and new jobs. In short, your gift will provide hope.
How to donate:
You may donate online at Network for Good, or you can send a check directly to our office at: 2201 P Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037. Check with your employer about matching funds, as many companies have matching programs that essentially double your investment in our organization. Finally, if you or someone you know is a government employee you can designate Free Minds for your CFC donation using # 75998 or United Way of the National Capital Area (UWNCA) # 9633.
If you would like more information about Free Minds, volunteer opportunities, or other ways to support our mission, please contact us directly at (202) 758-0829 or visit www.freemindsbookclub.org.
Thank you so very much for considering a donation. Most of all, thank you for your belief in the work and in the young men of Free Minds.
"Free Minds taught me a lot about concentration, staying focused, and thinking positive. Before I joined Free Minds my mind wasn't free, I always thought I was made for the streets and nothing else, until they got me to write my first poems, read books, and things of that nature. They helped me open my eyes to bigger dreams and long term goals, they also helped me get into programs that prepare me for the working world and the future.
Thank you, Free Minds, for everything."
D.H. Age 21
*I also encourage my publisher and author colleagues to donate their books to this exceptional program. Please contact Free Minds first and ask them to consider your book(s).
-Michele Bondi Bottesi
Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
2201 P St NW | Washington, DC 20037 US
2201 P St NW | Washington, DC 20037 US