The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation awarded Josh Sargent ’10 the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, Gold Level. He was honored in recognition of his 2,000 hours of service as the coordinator for the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop that serves incarcerated young men.
The Presidential Volunteer Service Award is given to individuals each year to encourage community engagement and recognize the valuable contributions volunteers are making in their communities.
For the past 11 months, Sargent has been using books and creative writing to encourage an increase in goal-setting and a decrease in recidivism among D.C.’s most vulnerable youth. As the program coordinator, Sargent was responsible for a weekly book club and a reentry program.
For a weekly book club held inside the D.C. jail’s juvenile unit, Sargent facilitated book discussion and creative writing (mainly poetry) and brought in guest authors, including Jonathan Franzen, American literary novelist and author of four novels-“Freedom,” “The Corrections,” “The Twenty-Seventh City,” and “Strong Motion,” and two works of nonfiction, “How to Be Alone” and “The Discomfort Zone.”
Sargent also managed reentry, through which he met members after they returned home and helped them develop job, interview and resume skills. He also helped provide them with the connections and knowledge they needed to succeed in the real world and avoid returning to prison.
“Among our members, recidivism is less than a third of the national average. Free Minds has served, and continues to serve, nearly 400 individuals,” explains Sargent, who credits the English department faculty at HWS with giving him the tools necessary to provide such service. “If I was able to make a difference with my work, it’s largely due to the classes I took with them.”
He notes Free Minds has a writing blog [http://freemindsbookclub.wordpress.com/] that showcases the work of young men incarcerated either in the D.C. jail or in federal prisons, having been transferred.
“If visitors comment on the blogs, we’ll print the comments out and bring them to the members in their cell. It makes a huge difference for them to know that people on the outside care about what they have to say.”
The organization has recently received funding to launch a virtual component to enable prisoners who have been transferred to continue to participate online.
Sargent earned a B.A. in English and Media and Society from Hobart College. While a student, he earned the White Essay Prize in English and Comparative Literature and wrote for the Martini.