Poetry Gives Young People in Prison a Voice — and a Fresh Start
How can book clubs and writing workshops help people in pretrial detention and prison get excited about learning and hopeful for the future? A June 3 webinar by the Annie E. Casey Foundation explored this very question.
The session spotlights the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, a program serving youth and adults who are incarcerated in Washington, D.C.’s criminal justice system.
Many Free Minds members were charged as adults but under age 18 when they entered adult jail, juvenile detention or federal prison. Oftentimes, they become avid readers and writers throughout their incarceration, despite never writing a poem or participating in a book club before joining Free Minds.
The webinar, Voices on Youth Incarceration, features moderator and Free Minds youth education and outreach manager Janet Zwick. It also welcomes three poet ambassadors — members who are now home from prison — who discuss their experience with the program and how they are leveraging it to inspire and redirect young people in need.
- Janet Zwick, youth education and outreach manager, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, moderator
- Carlos Alonso, poet ambassador, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
- Gene Downing, Congressman John Lewis Fellow and poet ambassador, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
- Eyone Williams, poet ambassador, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
During the hour segment, the ambassadors share their own poems and talk about the connective power of writing and how it can help young people get their lives back on track. The Pretrial Justice Institute — Casey’s JDAI® training partner — organized the webinar for JDAIconnect.
Facts About Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
- Approximately 95% of its members are Black; 4% are Latino.
- Since its inception in 1996, it has connected with more than 1,500 youths and adults.
- It has published three anthologies of poems and stories authored by members.
- It also runs a reentry support program for members returning to D.C.