Monday, November 25, 2019
Today will be another one working at Costco. If shoppers seem as harried and lost among the aisles as yesterday, It’ll be another get-out-of my-way doozy. We sample-servers, surrounded by people pushing kids in shopping carts and wanting to eat right now, try to keep ourselves politely responding to demands of, “How long before it’s ready!”
“About the twelfth of never!” I mutter to myself.
I’ll fast-forward to this evening. It’s on my calendar to watch a newly-released video, “College Behind Bars”, by award-winning film-maker, Lynn Novak (executive producer Ken Burns). It will air on PBS and I’m adding a video preview link below.
About a month ago Novak’s film came to my attention in a New York Times story covering the experiences of several long-time, hard-core prisoners, incarcerated for years in various state prisons. This small group had studied for several years under the auspices of Baird College, an elite state school that had initiated a reach-out program. Mostly, those prisoners had committed violent crimes, and before enrolling in the college course weren’t candidates for eventual parole. None had a glimmering of what formal education might be about. They enrolled reluctantly, and over much time and with hard work, began to view differently the larger world. Along with this, their perceptions of the prison world enlarged.
The NYT article highlighted this Bard Initiative prison team, how it began to learn, and eventually how diligently it worked. The prison team’s accomplishments came to public notice after it won a scholarly formal debate against the opposing team from Harvard.
The wonder of the team’s educational journey is how the prisoners became changed by higher education. In becoming better-learned, they grew more articulate, more able to think in abstract spheres. For the few Baird Initiative participants with opportunities for parole, their releases from prison now included real possibilities for productive employment.
“College Behind Bars” is a four-part documentary shot over a period of four years. It follows men and women learning while incarcerated in various New York State maximum and medium security prisons. It records a process of meaningful rehabilitation for those living behind bars and underscores the transformative power of higher education.
The film also raises serious questions by giving we viewers more insight into our existing criminal justice system and how the system routinely handles prisoners. We become aware that there’s almost a complete lack of redemptive opportunities. We wonder, for the few opportunities that do become available: Which prisoners get to participate and how are they chosen?
Here’s a link to a six-minute preview: https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/college-behind-bars/#watch
Dear Friends: I hope you’ll watch with me, or save the link for viewing later. Diana