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An Outlet for Anger, and Fear

Now that he is out, he is moving on. He transferred to another high school so he could make up classes and graduate on time. He is a Marine, having left the city late last month for boot camp on Parris Island, S.C. Daniels said recently that he'd like to travel to Africa as a Christian missionary.

But he had unfinished business.

Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop participants, from left to right, Anthony Parker, 17, Delonte King, 16, and Lamarzs Wilson, 17. (Photos Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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"This is not about me; this is about me trying to help the people that's there," he said of the reading. "It's kind of like I'm doing this for the me that was inside there."

Reading group founders Kelli Taylor and Tara Libert, both 40, said the youths mostly choose to read books that address such issues as racial intolerance, incarceration, poverty, crime and drug abuse. They're also big Harry Potter fans.

"It's really amazing, the insights these kids bring to the discussions," Taylor said. "They're always asking for more books." Each session, held every other Monday, includes a creative writing exercise to help the youths reflect on their actions and their goals.

"We were really not certain how the idea would be received at the jail," said Taylor, who followed a juvenile on death row in Texas while producing a documentary in 1996 and eventually befriended him. For four years, she exchanged letters and shared books with the inmate. He was executed in 2000.

Libert said the idea for the late July poetry reading came during a visit to the jail by Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas, who also writes poetry. One of the youths asked Thomas to read his work to them, and the enjoyment of that moment prompted a public reading of their writing.

Teenagers from City at Peace D.C., a youth development organization, volunteered to give voice to the words penned by the jail poets. The readers emphasized inflection and tone, trying to re-create a hard and scary life they knew little about.

"It was very nerve-racking because I wanted to do justice to the poems," said Malcolm Shanks, 14, of Southwest.

Marion R. Wilson, who recently returned from Memphis, where her grandson Davon Wilson is serving a 37-month sentence for robbery, went to the Love Cafe reading "to let him know I'm here while he's doing his time."

Davon Wilson, now 18, lived in Upper Northwest when he was arrested in 2002 and sent to the D.C. jail, where he joined the writers' group. His family hopes that with time off for good behavior, he will return to the District in early 2006.

The reading of his poems "Clutch Time" and "Unbearable" helped Marion Wilson know there still is hope for her grandson because he expressed thoughts about his future.

"It was something I didn't know was in him," she said. "If he can look that far ahead, he can tell right from wrong.''

The reading club continues to send books to Wilson. "He worries when he [doesn't] hear from them," his grandmother said. Wilson recently wrote to say he had passed his GED high school equivalency test, which he took after encouragement from Taylor.

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