THE CORRIDOR

Solutions. Prison reform debate rages around solutions. Even when everyone at a given table agrees on the problem, the propose solutions can differ widely. There are many, they overlap and they are often interdependent.

(For the record, here’s a sampler of my long list of forward steps we could take: Release old and infirm prisoners; sentence children as children, do away with the death penalty, scale back on LWOP (life Without Parole), implement radical and retroactive sentencing reductions for all drugs offenses and non-violent offenses, eradicate solitary confinement, treat addiction with hospitals not prisons, fund services for youth and families to avoid the use of custody later in life, drawdown the bail system, issue an amnesty for outstanding warrants for non-violent misdemeanors, ban the box, make criminal record expungement available as a right, scale back sentencing guidelines to that of the European average, make prisons smaller, provide prisoners nutritious food, subject all staff to yearly self-care and mental health checks, reinstitute Pell Grants for access to college for prisoners, continue all voluntary work programs but provide more than cents on the dollar wages, increase the number of family days and trailer visits, and PROVIDE EDUCATION)

What last solution, what education looks like differs hugely. Some prisoners need parenting classes, some only want practical training (welding, HVAC, electrical, plumbing etc). Other prisoners want business training. Then there are some that want liberal arts college classes.

A staggering number of prisoners need a GED.

The Corridor portrays the nation’s first high school custom built inside an adult jail. The film follows one semester inside the experimental Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco.

2

In the film, we’ll meet students, teachers and staff. Referred to as the “crown jewel” of the SF Sheriff Department, enrollment in Five Keys Charter School is all but mandatory for incarcerated people who never received a high school diploma.

The problems for mandated GED programs are well known among prison and jail educators — it can be very difficult to engage a class of students with a high school curriculum when they did not respond to high school on the first round. This in-built tension makes any GED project in a prison or jail that more difficult as compared to other programs (with voluntary sign-up). Therefore, Five Keys represents a genuine innovation approaches to criminal justice.

Custodial staff maintain safety in a jail that houses members from a reported 22 active gangs. Meanwhile teachers follow a strict policy of not knowing their students’ criminal charges (in my experience, both common sense and common policy).

1

3

The Corridor follows lessons, learning, challenges and graduation in a school that won the 2014 award for best charter school in Northern California.

Filmmakers Annelise Wunderlich and Richard O’Connell began shooting in May 2013 and made over 100 hours of material. It took them over two years to negotiate access. Former Sheriff Michael Hennessey was the man who gave the green-light.

“Hennessey built his reputation on creating programs that go beyond what is mandated by law,” says Wunderlich and O’Connell. “He has said that what he enjoyed most about being the sheriff was to make and experiment with policy. His legacy lives on with the current staff.”

Wunderlich and O’Connell want to create “an immersive portrait that focuses on the inner workings of the school and the programs, capturing along the way conflicts, dilemmas and breakthroughs that arise in the course of carrying out its mission.”

They aren’t trying to make an argument for one type of custodial approach or another. They are interested in observing how education (in this particular case) is shoehorned into a criminal justice system to satisfy some of the system’s objectives — lowered recidivism, empowerment, self-realisation, reductions in violence.

I wish them luck.

Unbelievably, Five Keys has barely been replicated elsewhere. This is despite its measured achievements and despite growing research that education-based jail programs are the most effective way to reduce recidivism.

4

6

FILMMAKER’S PRESENTATION

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, Annelise Wunderlich will be speaking next Tuesday, 16th June at Bay Area Video Arts Coalition (BVAC).

“This edition of Storytelling Across Media,” reads the BVAC blurb, “brings together three innovative Bay Area media makers who will speak to the power storytelling holds for those “behind bars”. Although each panelist comes from a different artistic background (performance, documentary film, and fine art photography) they all share a commitment to helping incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals tell their stories and put their voices out in the world, whether through dance, film, or radio.”

Tuesday, June 16
6:30pm

BAVC
2727 Mariposa Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94110

Tickets are $10 for BAVC Members, $15 general. Seating is limited. Buy tickets here.

My pal Nigel Poor will also be speaking.

LINKS

The Corridor website

Trailer

Successful Kickstarter page with updates

Videos!

Facebook

Twitter

 

Advertisements