The Corridor is a feature-length documentary that portrays an innovative experiment: the nation’s first high school custom built inside an adult jail. The film follows one semester inside Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco, observing as students, teachers and law enforcement staff prepare for graduation day and navigate a new paradigm of criminal justice that’s based on the human potential for change.
This marks the first time a documentary film crew has been given access to the school. The Corridor puts human faces and some real world representation to often abstract ideals around criminal justice.
A Crucial Question
The Corridor engages a central question that societies have been answering in different ways for thousands of years: how can we best achieve justice? That question is more urgent now than ever, as we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, and we imprison a larger percentage of our ethnic minorities than any other country.
The film documents how the San Francisco Sheriff’s department is responding to that very question. The film in particular focuses on a semester in Five Keys Charter School, which is the centerpiece, and sometimes referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Department. Enrollment in the school is all but mandatory for incarcerated people who never received a high school diploma. The school represents a genuine innovation in how one city is approaching criminal justice. The program, which won the 2014 award for best charter school in Northern California, still has few counterparts—despite growing research that suggests that education-based jail programs are the most effective way to reduce recidivism.
But it is not the easy way. Tensions abound: the custodial staff must maintain safety in a facility that houses members from 22 active gangs and many people charged with violent crimes, while teachers try to recreate a “normal” high school experience for their students and follow a strict policy of not knowing their students’ criminal charges.
The goals of the school are as straightforward as they are as ambitious: to contribute to reductions in recidivism rates, to improve public safety, increase economic activity, and to have safer and less costly jails. What seems different from other rehabilitation efforts is how the department approaches achieving these goals. The school has at heart some core beliefs about people who end up in jail: the first is that most people have the ability and capacity to change, if they are given some kind of real opportunity to do so.
Former Sheriff Michael Hennessy—and by extension, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department—built his maverick reputation on creating programs that go beyond what is mandated by law. 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. In the film, we are able capture some of these programs, such as transcendental meditation and playtime with dogs to relax the incarcerated people and staff; bicycle maintenance and urban gardening programs to better equip students to find practical jobs once they get out of jail; and the well respected Resolve to Stop the Violence program (RSVP) where offenders hear from victims of crimes.
In making this film, our intention is not to make the case for what the Sheriff’s Department loosely describes as a “restorative” approach to criminal justice. Nor will we try to explore the many implications of this approach. Rather, this film is intended as 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.
The documentary looks at the school from multiple perspectives. Our characters range from the current Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, to the men and women incarcerated as we write, and also include the teachers, administrators and deputized staff.
The film will implicitly pose questions for the audience by documenting all of this, and by the very nature of directly depicting the people, formal and informal interactions, and the details and the complexity of the operation. These questions are fundamental to the discussion of crime and punishment, and about whether or not this is an effective approach.
We were drawn to the project because of its obvious innovation. We heard a lot about the Five Keys school from Annelise's husband Anthony, who teaches there. One day we said we should make a documentary about it. Finally we did. It took over two years for us to negotiate access with the San Francisco Sheriff's department, and we began shooting in May 2013. We were embedded at the school for several semesters and shot over 100 hours of material. Since then we have been fundraising, finishing production, and editing.
Documentaries require, quite literally, a village of folks coming together to get the film made. We are hoping you can be part of the village. We have some amazing collaborators, colleagues and support thus far. We have to mention our families, without whom we could not have even decided to embark on the project. The rest of our current team includes our Associate Producer Caitriona Coyne, our editorial team Linda Peckham and Carlo Kamin, and our amazing and talented interns from Berkeley City College: Rosemary Jason, Steven Castro, Marques DuPree, Miguel Lugo, and Benjamin Hilton. We also have a team of advisers which include criminal justice experts Alessandro De Giorgi of San Jose State University, Joan Petersilia of Stanford Law School, and Glenn E. Martin of JustLeadership USA.
Why We’re Doing This
Documentaries have become an essential tool in how we explore and experience the world. The power of documentary film lies in its innate ability to tell complex stories can that serve as catalysts for social change. The Corridor can spark an intensive, inspiring dialogue about how we, as a society, are addressing the complex problem – of how to respond to crime and justice. The film will bring a much-needed human face to the genuine crisis we have in this country around our mass incarceration of the poorest, most marginalized and least educated among us.
We are excited for the world to meet the students, teachers and deputized staff at the High School and their powerful, inspiring stories. We believe the film will challenge the assumption that people incarcerated in prisons and jails across this country are only failures – that need to be controlled – but in actuality, these are real people like us with hope and potential, that need to be inspired, supported and provided the tools to change.
We have completed principal photography and have started the editing process. Our big task now is to turn over a hundred hours of material into an exceptional feature documentary. So we're turning to our family of supporters to help us raise the funds to:
finish editing the film
score the film
Over the last 2 years, The Corridor has received backing from BAVC and The San Francisco Foundation. But we still need your help to reach completion.
By supporting The Corridor you'll help us ensure that we create a film that engages and galvanizes audiences to support a new way of looking at criminal justice – and the belief that the everyone deserves the opportunity and has the power to change.
Richard and Annelise
What is Kickstarter?
Kickstarter helps bring creative projects to life. It allows people who might not ordinarily get the opportunity to be part of creative project like a movie now have a way of doing so. Kickstarter is also about community and groups of people coming to get together to support something they think is worthwhile or important. Through this web site, you can give money that will help finance our project, The Corridor, in exchange for a variety of rewards, screen credits, our gratitude - and the knowledge that you will be contributing to a project that we hope will contribute to huge changes in how people think about criminal justice.
Risks and challenges
The challenges we face are those of any documentary filmmaker, probably the most important of which is telling a compelling story. With this particular film we also face the added burden of humanizing a huge issue that is often explained or presented abstractly. Also important for us with this film is to leave viewers decide for themselves about whether or not a program like this can make a difference.
Right now of course we face the fundamental issue of funding and our ability to support the completing of the film in a timely fashion. We have a supportive community of people around us who have helped us get this far, and now of course we are looking for help from you.
So please, share this KICKSTARTER campaign with your friends and family, on Facebook and Twitter - and show the world that you care.
And PLEASE DONATE WHATEVER YOU CAN. Any amount will be gratefully received and put to good use.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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