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 (

  • 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 (FY2014)

  • $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

Catalogue charities range in size from $100,000 to $3 million. This graphic indicates the budget range of the organization featured here. If you see an organizational budget above the $3 million mark, that is because the featured charity has grown in size since it first appeared in the Catalogue. We proudly present on our website the work of these "growth" charities.

About the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Each year 120 expert reviewers evaluate applicants for distinction, merit, and impact. Each featured charity has been successfully site visited and its financials given the thumbs up. The Catalogue for Philanthropy charges no fees and raises funds separately to support its work. Since 2003, it has raised over $40 million for charities across the Greater Washington region.

The Catalogue for Philanthropy looks to friends like you to keep our services independent and entirely free of charge. Consider a small contribution to the Catalogue to cap off your gift and help the causes you care about get the full support they deserve!

If you like Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop you might also like

This organization collaborates with