Bringing hope and opportunity to inmates in Minnesota county jails

FreeWriters provides our fellow citizens behind bars a much-needed chance for creative expression and emotional release — and inspiration for a future free of incarceration.


About FreeWriters

FreeWriters is the only organization in Minnesota providing daily creative writing opportunities specifically for county jail inmates.

We reach these inmates at a crucial time in their lives, as they sit in jail for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years – with no access to emotional wellness programming or any time outdoors – while awaiting oft-delayed court dates. The FreeWriters approach helps inmate-writers see that they already possess the talent and will to choose a more rewarding, less perilous path. We help participants develop transformative personal insight and provide a sorely needed boost in confidence.

whenever FREEWRITERS is in that classroom something special is happening and….PRICELESS \ like the world’s best kept secret i don’t want to keep describing it \ I want to share it, promote it because I believe in it. — T.A. (2020)

I don’t like to sit in the unit \ Having the same ole conversations on the daily \ So I come to this free-writers class \ I’m sitting here writing to these prompts \ Because it frees my mind \ Puts my head in a good space. — S.A. (2020)

What am I doing in this class? I’m finally being heard. I’m here letting myself free upon paper, and after, I share to the world what I’ve created. It’s new to me / the old class clown with a B or C average, finally being in front of the class with something people want to hear. They wait and they listen. They actually understand and at the end I get an applause of hands. For once I’m not people pleasing to be heard. — R.K. (2021)

I like this class. There is real stories being told. Deep and bold. I feel no tension inside. The most important part: WE make this class. Sharing is expressive, it can be good or bad what you share. But I feel positive about this. I plan to keep writing today. — M.X. (2019)

This is a place to escape the harsh realities of our situations / To open our minds and let the creative juices flow / To smile and laugh / To share our thoughts / Just for a minute, I feel like I am not an inmate / A little less worried of what others may think of me / A few days ago, I hit the one-year mark / No contact from the outside world / And now this minute of class makes a huge difference.  — E.S. (2021)

Get in touch

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Nate Johnson Executive Director

About Our Founder
Nate Johnson is a former prosecuting attorney, veteran, and lifelong lover of literature and creative writing. Nate leads FreeWriters classes for current inmate-writers, as well as community-based writing groups for former inmates and other local writers. He also regularly participates in writing workshops through the Loft Literary Center and the University of Minnesota.

In the News

  • Local author Dennis Kelly has joined the FreeWriters jail instructor team! Dennis has published two novels, including the much-lauded A Comedian Walks Into a Funeral Home. He’s also a long-time writing and meditation teacher serving kids in juvenile detention centers and inmates in state prisons. We’re extremely lucky to have Dennis on board.
  • FreeWriters has expanded its class offering in Hennepin County from four to six per week! This gives us an opportunity to work with 65-70 inmate-writers per week (up from 45-50 per week).
  • FreeWriters jail classes are going great in the Anoka County Jail! We make our way to Anoka once a week to work with their bright, talented inmate-writers. We’re so happy to have established this new partnership.
  • FreeWriters classes are starting up in Southern Indiana! We recently trained new partners Chris and Tammy Cotton on the FreeWriters method so they can add it to their already-robust list of services for inmates in Kosciusko County. Tammy and Chris founded the nonprofit Lite in KCJ, through which they regularly teach mindfulness classes (and now FreeWriters classes!) to inmates in their home county.