Free Minds builds community and empowers justice-involved individuals through the literary arts. In book club discussions, writing workshops, and author visits, youth and adults in local detention facilities read stories and poetry that reflect their lives and then write and publish their own narratives. When members move to federal prisons across the country, Free Minds connects them with books, personalized letters, a community magazine, and events in which volunteers read and respond to members' poetry. Additionally, the reentry program builds on these activities to offer apprenticeships and job skills training while creating spaces for reentry members to lead advocacy and peacebuilding efforts. Last year, Free Minds served more than 1,000 individuals and achieved a recidivism rate of just 9%, with over 97% of members employed, in school, or in vocational programs an extraordinary achievement.

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 (

  • Number of people (clients, patrons, students, etc) we serve annually:   500
  • Number of volunteers who work with us annually:   250
  • Number of books (textbooks, school supplies) distributed/donated annually:   2000
  • Percentage of Free Minds members who do not recidivate:   90%

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.


Budget (FY2023)

  • $3 million or higher
  • The current budget for Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop is: $1 million to $3 million
  • $500k to $1 million
  • Less than $500k

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