Tony Belton and Terrell Branham were both young when they were sent to prison.
“My transition from being here one day and then locked up the next, it was tough,” Branham said during Off Script with Bruce Johnson.
Branham first went behind bars when he was 16 years old for an armed carjacking. He didn’t come out until his mid-20s.
“I had to learn how to catch the train all over again,” he said.
Belton spent 14 years in prison for armed robbery and conspiracy to deliver drugs.
“You gotta prove yourself again,” Belton said of what it was like to earn back trust with family members after spending so much time away.
“I didn't know what direction to look at,” Branham added.
Belton and Branham didn’t know each other while incarcerated, but now they’re working together to help other former inmates transition to life after prison.
The two participate in Free Minds Book Club in D.C.
“Free Minds gives you a platform because a lot of people in prison don’t know how to express themselves,” Belton explained.
Free Minds is a nonprofit that uses books and writing as tools to empower inmates to transform their lives.
Branham looked to Free Minds to help him transition to being free for the first time in his adult life. He’s been a part of the program for 6 to 7 years now.
“[Belton] gives me steps and tools on how to move and what to say and how to act and how to present myself in interviews,” Branham said. “That’s stuff I never knew. Free Minds and the brothers with Free Minds helped me.”
Now Branham is giving back. He works at Free Minds and helps others find outlets to be creative.
“It allows you to challenge yourself inwardly to begin to express those thoughts outwardly by writing and reading poetry,” Belton said. “There’s no other program like it.”
You can learn more about Free Minds by visiting their website Free Minds Book Club.