“As the detainee read his writing aloud, his sparse words cracked open the siloed bravado of jail habitation that gives no quarter to vulnerability.”

The writings allow the reader to become a compassionate witness into the lives of jailed individuals and come away with an understanding of the background, humanity, and hope inherent in each story.

The stories told expose crime from the vantage point of those within our community who carry its burden. A burden born of extreme poverty, untreated addiction, mental illness, institutional discrimination and limited educational opportunities. 

Praise and Reviews

“To immerse oneself in this stunning and beautiful volume is to immediately understand that no matter how brutal our carceral system is, it cannot suppress the extraordinary creativity and the humanity that nevertheless triumphs on the inside.”

★ — Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy

"In observing jail detainees in a FreeWriters session, the exercise produced raw accounts of sadness, addiction and loss. Yet, within the struggle hope and motivation arouse to get one’s life back on track. Along with an acknowledgement that putting life down on paper and reading it, does help."

★ — Louis Krause, Reporter Star Tribune

“Jail time should not be dead time. This insightful collection of writing shines a light on the human beings within our jail facilities and is nothing short of priceless.”

★ — Dawanna Witt, Hennepin County Sheriff

“Mindful Writing from the County Jail is a must read if you want to gain insight into the people who are the victims of America's mass incarceration crisis. The writing from these jail detainees is powerful, painful, and poignant. They are our neighbors, and they will be again. They are artists and workers, fathers and brothers. Their humanity spills forward in the words they wrote.”

★ — Pulitzer Prize Winning Columnist Tony Messenger, Author of Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Justice

“All the incarcerated have a story, and all need to engage through storytelling and other arts to become free.  Write it down. Perform it. Paint the picture. Let the tears flow and heal. So, when the cage door finally opens, a butterfly emerges, not the same unformed creature that entered. Mindful Writing from the County Jail is a remarkable compilation of that telling, FreeWriters program the necessary means.”

★ — James P. Lenfestey, Minnesota Book Kay Sexton Award Winner, Author of Into the Goodhue County Jail: Poems to Free Prisoners

“Our community programs share the same artistic message of HOPE, LOVE, FORGIVENESS, BELIEF AND JOY. FreeWriters, through mindful writing in the jails and Artfully United, through murals painted on walls, involving at risk community members. I’m happy to have an arts partnership that positively impacts the wellbeing of those they serve.”

★ — Michael Norvice, Renowned Muralist, Founder of ArtfullyUnited.org

“The stories presented in this marvelously curated publication echo the voices I have heard from the bench countless times over the years. Perhaps these heart wrenching accounts will allow you to ascertain, as I have, that those in our jails are unique individuals and not criminals in the aggregate. Further we must never imprison a mind. If reform is to take hold, we are obliged to offer programs that reflect dignity, opportunity and incite hope. A mission FreeWriters has dutifully undertaken.”

★ — Burt Riskedahl, Retired District Judge, North Dakota