Any donation received before midnight June 30 will be TRIPLED.
The last few months have been challenging for everyone, but they have hit marginalized communities including incarcerated and criminalized youth the hardest. Amidst the intersecting pandemics of disease and structural racism, Free Write’s response to the expressed needs of our students has been swift. Your donation at this time will directly support the success of our incarcerated and criminalized students now and as we emerge from this unprecedented moment.
How are we responding?
- Continuing Free Write programming with youth in detention. In our 20 years of service to incarcerated youth, we have always found ways to work within or around extenuating circumstances, administrative shifts, and logistical barriers within the chaotic environments of jails and prisons. In this time of a public health crisis combined with social unrest, it is critical that we maintain consistent delivery of arts and literacy workshops to our students. We have moved our creative learning communities online so we can continue to work with youth incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice youth prisons, and Cook County Jail.
- Migrating our public exhibition and performance platforms online. When our students share their art with an audience, they tell us that they feel heard, validated, and more deeply connected to creative communities. They also report feeling motivated to take the next steps in their arts practice. They become more confident to share their inspiring and informative perspectives on experiences with incarceration and life in general. These perspectives are as crucial for us, too, as they offer first-hand knowledge that guides and shifts the public conversation around issues of youth incarceration.
- Bridging technology gaps to mitigate the deep isolation of incarceration and criminalization during pandemic. Our incarcerated and recently released students need laptops, high-speed internet, tablets, headphones, and other telecommunications support in order to participate in the broadcast-quality, interactive arts programming and performance platforms designed by Free Write’s Artist Educators.
- Employing Free Write program alumni as Community Navigators. Community Navigators are employed by Free Write to lead arts workshops, public conversations, Know Your Rights workshops, and take leadership roles in the movement to end mass incarceration. Steady employment is one of the key factors in keeping young people out of jail.
How does this connect to our longstanding work and vision for the future?
- Sustained, consistent arts and literacy programming for incarcerated and criminalized youth. Since 2000, Free Write has invested in the academic, creative, and career goals of thousands of incarcerated and criminalized young people. In the past two years, we’ve significantly expanded our efforts in locked facilities and in communities in the Chicago region.
- Accompanying our students through and away from experiences with incarceration. Beginning in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, continuing into the Illinois Youth Prisons or Cook County Jail, and ultimately back into the community, we make space for them to apply their creative visions and skills to become leaders advocating for systemic change while living the lives they choose to live.
- Designing platforms for exhibition, publishing, and performance. Our students use the arts to connect to the community, achieve employment and further education, and build empathy in society that has historically ignored them.
- Contributing to the work of actualizing and operationalizing the movement for a world without prisons.