November 13, 6:30-9:00pm/Impact Hub Oakland
Meet this year’s honorees Taina Vargas-Edmond and David Cowan:
Taina Vargas-Edmond is the Founder & Executive Director of Initiate Justice, a grassroots organization created to build the political power of people directly impacted by mass incarceration. Under her leadership, Initiate Justice has recruited almost 17,000 members in prison, and fought for important policy wins such as passing and implementing Prop 57, eliminating the Felony Murder Rule (SB 1437), and advocating to restore voting rights to all people in prison and on parole in California.
Taina has a Master of Arts Degree in Diplomacy and International Relations from Seton Hall University, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from California State University, Northridge.
David Cowan is the Director of a new organization, Bonafide, which connects with prison programs and organizes volunteers to meet newly released people at the gate with a "welcome back pack" of basic necessities. They then organize structured outings including critical learning goals and bonding activities to build learning and community among its newly released members. David is also the operations manager for the Prison University Project.
David has an Associate of Arts degree from Patten University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State University in Criminal Justice.
The Meaning of Life - Join UnCommon Law for a discussion with Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project, co-authors of "The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences." Marc and Ashley will be joined by Keith Wattley, Executive Director of UnCommon Law, and Miguel Quezada, former life-sentenced UnCommon Law client.
THE PUSHOUTS - Join us for a sneak-peek screening of THE PUSHOUTS, an award-winning documentary directed by Katie Galloway and produced and co-directed by Dawn Valadez, set for national broadcast on September 20th. The screening will feature a post-film discussion with Victor Rios and youth activists from around the Bay. We are excited to offer this rare opportunity to see Victor speak, and to help THE PUSHOUTS launch their Seed and Spark campaign. More information can be found at www.thepushouts.com.
About the Film: "I was in prison before I was even born.” So begins the story of Victor Rios - a high school dropout, gang member, and three time felon by 15. But when a teacher’s quiet persistence, a mentor’s moral conviction, and his best friend’s murder converge, Rios’ path takes an unlikely turn. Two decades later, Rios - by then a 36 year-old tenured UC professor, author and national thought leader on the school-to-prison pipeline - gets an unexpected call that propels him on a summer-long journey with a group of teenagers struggling to stay out of the system. Woven with archival material stretching back 25 years to Rios’ own troubled adolescence and including the contemporary story of this fateful summer in Watts, THE PUSHOUTS examines crucial questions of race, class, power, and the American dream at a particularly urgent time.
Join us for a post-film discussion with Victor Rios, highlighting the critical issues THE PUSHOUTS seeks to address.
Crime After Crime - Join us for a screening of this award-winning Sundance Film festival selection, followed by a post-movie discussion with Carletha Sterling, incarcerated for 32 years, and attorney Lilli Paratore.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at 6:30 PM - New Parkway Theater, Oakland CA
About the Film: In 1983, Deborah Peagler, a woman brutally abused by her boyfriend, was sentenced to 25 years-to-life for her connection to his murder. Twenty years later, a California law allowing domestic-violence survivors to reopen their cases was passed. Enter a pair of rookie land-use attorneys convinced that they could free Deborah in a matter of months. The outrageous twists and turns in this consummately crafted saga are enough to keep us on the edge of our seats. Meanwhile, the spirit, fortitude, and love all three characters marshal in the face of this wrenching marathon is nothing short of miraculous.
Join us for a post-film discussion highlighting Uncommon Law's work with women serving life sentences. The panel will feature a close friend of Deborah Peagler's, Carletha Sterling, herself incarcerated for 32 years. She will be joined by attorney Lilli Paratore of UnCommon Law, who has spent years helping women in similar situations successfully navigate their parole hearings.
Healing Justice - Join us for a screening of this new documentary by Dr. Shakti Butler, followed by a post-movie discussion with the director, Malachai Scott and Sara Kruzan. This event is presented by KPFA and co-sponsored by UnCommon Law.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
About the Film: Healing Justice, explores the causes and consequences of the current North American justice system and its effect on marginalized communities. The film walks us through the history of violence that has led to our current system, bringing into focus the histories of trauma – on a personal, interpersonal, community, and generational level. This powerful documentary addresses the school-to-prison pipeline, the need for comprehensive criminal justice reform, and the importance of healing and restorative practices.
Join us for a post-film discussion facilitated by Dr. Butler with Malachai Scott, featured in the documentary, and Sara Kruzan - a nationally recognized healer, who was incarcerated for 19 years and is the Parole Success Advocate at UnCommon Law.
Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard A
A Documentary plus Q&A with Kenneth Hartman, featured in the film and now out of prison
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
About the Film: Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard A explores the nation’s extreme sentencing policy of Life Without the Possibility of Parole, often referred to as “the other death sentence”. There are now more than 50,000 men, women and juveniles in the United States currently serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole who are all condemned to die in prison.
The documentary was filmed entirely on Yard A at the California State Prison, Los Angeles County. Known as the Progressive Programming Facility, the yard is populated entirely with inmates serving life sentences. The inmates call it The Honor Yard and within the setting, they participate in peer groups such as anger management and The Houses of Healing in which they come to accept the severity of crimes and the pain they inflicted upon their victims. The Honor Yard program also offers traditional education courses as well as art and music therapy in an effort to create a positive life for these men who will never return to society. It is the only such program in the United States.
The film explores issues of rehabilitation for those who have committed capital crimes and also questions whether the sentence of Life Without the Possibility of Parole raises human rights concerns.
Our post-film discussion featured Kenneth Hartman, in the the documentary and now out of prison, and his daughter Alia, along with Keith Wattley.
THE SENTENCE: Screening & Discussion
March 12 | New Parkway Theater
About the Screening: Join us for a screening and conversation with UnCommon Law’s Keith Wattley, Yoel Haile of the ACLU and Lara Bazelon - lawyer, activist and author of "Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction." This event is co-presented with The Justice Collaborative and the ACLU of Northern California.
About the Film: Cindy Shank, mother of three, served a 15-year sentence in federal prison for her tangential involvement with a Michigan drug ring years earlier. Filmed by her brother, this intimate portrait follows Cindy and her family over ten years. Winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, The Sentence puts a face on the human consequences of mandatory minimums and acts as a powerful call-to-action for reform.
JUVIES: A Screening & Panel Discussion
Part of the “Week Against Mass Incarceration” by Nat’l Lawyers Guild at U.C. Berkeley Law School
Tuesday, March 5 at 6 PM
Boalt Hall, Room 240 - 225 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
About the Film: Twelve juveniles tried as adults were picked at random for a video workshop at Eastlake Juvenile Hall, Los Angeles. Their stories are inter-cut with commentary from academics, neurologists, a former D.A. of L.A. County, and others who discuss the trend in recent years across the United States to try juveniles as adults - more than 200,000 each year.
Panel Discussion to Follow: Featuring staff & former clients of UnCommon Law.
UNTOUCHABLE: Screening & Discussion
Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 6:30 PM
About the Screening: Uncommon Law screened the award-winning documentary UNTOUCHABLE and faciltated a talk afterwards with Director David Feige, Survivor Advocate Chelsea Miller and our Executive Director Keith Wattley.
About the Film: When a Florida lobbyist discovers his daughter has been sexually abused, he harnesses his extraordinary political influence to pass the toughest sex offender legislation in the country. UNTOUCHABLE chronicles his crusade and its impact on the lives of several of the 800,000 people forced to live under the laws he has championed.
PRISON TOWN, USA
December 11, 2018 The New Parkway Theater
About the Screening: UnCommon Law and The Place4Grace present Prison Town, USA as part of UnCommon Law's ongoing film series on stories of resistance, resilience, and redemption in American prisons. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with the founder of The Place4Grace, Karen McDaniel — an integral part of the educational, social service, and criminal justice reform arenas for more than 25 years.
About the Film: Prison Town, USA tells the story of Susanville, California, one small town that tries to resuscitate its economy by building a prison — with unanticipated consequences. The film sheds light on an industry that is transforming the social and economic landscape of rural America.
“It can be dangerous to be a feminist in prison.”
Richard Edmond Vargas, serving a sentence in Soledad prison since he was a teen, teaches his fellow prisoners about toxic masculinity, vulnerability, and feminism.
“We cannot challenge our harmful behavior without challenging patriarchy,” – Richie Edmond Vargas.
Richie is being released from prison in July, and will join us to discuss his experience and this film!
SPEAKERS: Richie and his wife Taina Vargas-Edmond, co-founders of Initiate Justice.
“I was in prison before I was even born.” So begins the story of Dr. Victor Rios who, by 15, was a high school dropout and gang member with multiple felony convictions and a death wish. But when a teacher’s quiet persistence, a mentor’s moral conviction and his best friend’s murder converge, Rios’s path takes an unexpected turn. Through Rios’ personal lens and its interplay with stories of the young people of Watts, the Pushouts interrogates crucial questions of race, class and power – and the promise and perils of education – at a particularly urgent time.
SPEAKERS: The Pushouts star Victor Rios and National Center for Youth Law and UnCommon Law Board member Francis “Frankie” Guzman 2018 Winner of Juvenile Law Center Leadership Prize will be featured on the panel. Here’s a recent article on Frankie and Victor.
In the United States today, more than 2,500 individuals are serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed when they were 17 years old or younger. Children as young as 13 are among the thousands serving these sentences. In partnership with The Bay Area Chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, we bring you Lost for Life, which tells the stories of these individuals, of their families and of the families of victims of juvenile murder.
You’re more likely to go to prison in the USA than any other country in the world, so if you’re in America you need a SURVIVORS GUIDE TO PRISON. The “Survivors” team is in the Bay Area for one night only, and they have invited UnCommon Law’s Keith Wattley to join the post-film discussion.
A chilling exposé of U.S. criminal justice, told through the eyes of 2 innocent men who spent decades facing unimaginable brutality, for murders they did not commit. Supported by gripping testimony from inmates, guards, staff, cops, analysts, lawyers and reformers, SURVIVORS GUIDE advocates evolving beyond the failed “prison punishment model” toward the dramatic moving programs proven to create public safety.
SPEAKERS: Jody Lewen from the Prison University Project, Northern California Innocence Project, Kenyatta Leal from The Last Mile, Dr. Kimberly Richman from Alliance for Change, Paul Rickett, and Obama Fellow and UnCommon Law Executive Director Keith Wattley will be featured on the panel.
Does sentencing a teenager to life without parole serve our society well? The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. This is the story of one of those children, now a young man, seeking a second chance in Florida. At age 15, Kenneth Young received four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. Imprisoned for more than a decade, he believed he would die behind bars. Now a U.S. Supreme Court decision could set him free.
UnCommon Law and National Center for Youth Law bring you 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story, which follows Young’s struggle for redemption, revealing a justice system with thousands of young people serving sentences intended for society’s most dangerous criminals.
SPEAKERS: National Center for Youth Law and UnCommon Law Board member Francis “Frankie” Guzman 2018 Winner of Juvenile Law Center Leadership Prize will be featured on the panel. An article on Frankie.
Crime After Crime is the story of the battle to free Debbie Peagler, an incarcerated survivor of brutal domestic violence. Over 26 years in prison cannot crush the spirit of this determined woman, despite the injustices she has experienced, first at the hands of a boyfriend who beat her and forced her into prostitution, and later by prosecutors who cornered her into a life behind bars for her connection to the murder of her abuser. Her story takes an unexpected turn two decades later when a pair of volunteer attorneys take on her case, and attract global attention to the troubled intersection of domestic violence and criminal justice.
SPEAKERS: After the film, stay to hear from award winning filmmaker Yoav Potash, former UnCommon Law client Alicia Nolan and UnCommon Law attorney Lilli Paratore, whose Equal Justice Works Fellowship is focused on parole policy change that recognizes the experience of gendered trauma and abuse.
In 2012, California amended its “Three Strikes” law—one of the harshest criminal sentencing policies in the country. The passage of Prop. 36 marked the first time in U.S. history that citizens voted to shorten sentences of those currently incarcerated. Within days, the reintegration of thousands of “lifers” was underway. THE RETURN examines this unprecedented reform through the eyes of those on the front lines—prisoners suddenly freed, families turned upside down, reentry providers helping navigate complex transitions, and attorneys and judges wrestling with an untested law. At a moment of reckoning on mass incarceration, what can California’s experiment teach the nation?
After the film we met folks directly impacted by incarceration- including UnCommon Law Board member and former client Troy Williams, also a Root & Rebound client — and found out what it’s like to return home.
We also heard about the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act, an important initiative to restore voting rights to incarcerated and paroled people in California. Initiate Justice was on hand to show us how we can help get this on the ballot.
UnCommon Heroes 2017: Champions of Hope + Healing
November 15, 2017 | Impact Hub | 2323 Broadway, Oakland, CA
An UnCommon Celebration Honoring
Elizabeth Calvin, Senior Advocate, Human Rights Watch
Nate Williams, President, Choices for Freedom
Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez, Executive Director, Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos
Danny Glover, Actor and Activist
Scott Budnick, Film Producer/Activist, Founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition
James Cavitt, Master of Ceremonies
We honored Elizabeth Calvin, Nate Williams, and Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez – people who are working hard to bring both hope and healing to individuals and families devastated by harsh, misguided criminal justice policies. Elizabeth has authored and championed the most significant legislation in decades to guarantee that young people have a meaningful opportunity to come home from prison. Nate, a former UnCommon Law client, works as a mentor and regularly returns to prison to inspire others still locked inside. And Nane has been a champion in the fight for justice and humanity for young people since long before our laws recognized the differences between adults and children involved in serious crimes.
Life After Life
September 10, 2017, 4:00 pm | Lark Theater | 549 Magnolia Ave | Larkspur, CA 94939
Life After Life sets itself apart from other prison films by providing extraordinary access to the incarcerated men, facilities, experts, and leaders in the correctional system. Drawing on her background in grief support, filmmaker Tamara Perkins creates a safe environment for each subject, bringing authenticity to interviews that reveal sensitive, personal stories.
Skid Row Marathon
Saturday, Aug 26, 2017, 4:00 pm | The Roxie Theater | 3117 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Rafael was convicted of the 1982 retaliation murder and attempted murder of two rival gang members. Locked up as a teenager and sentenced to life, he could have easily thrived in prison off of his reputation for violence, living in a haze of drugs and prison-made wine. Instead, Rafael became a model of change in some of California’s most violent prisons. His turnaround impressed prison staff, prosecutors, clergy, and others to the point where the prosecutor who showed up to oppose Rafael’s release was so blown away by his transformation that the prosecutor later wrote that he himself posed a greater risk to public safety than Rafael did.
That prosecutor-turned-judge, Craig Mitchell, was so fundamentally changed by the experience that he started the Skid Row Running club to support people in achieving positive life goals, and he continues to inspire and support people committed to turning their lives around.
UnCommon Law had the privilege of working with Rafael as he battled the parole board and the Governor to secure his release from prison after nearly three decades inside. He truly exemplifies what’s possible in the world.
They Call Us Monsters
May 30, 2017, 6:30 pm | Lark Theater | 549 Magnolia Ave | Larkspur, CA 94939
About the Film
In California, violent juveniles between 14-17 years old can be tried as adults. Typically, they are accused of heinous crimes — murders and attempted murders — that leave their victims’ families shattered. And yet, they are still kids, with a greater capacity to change and one day return to society. What is our responsibility to these kids? And to their victims? Do they deserve a second chance? These are the questions legislators are grappling with across the country as they attempt to reform our juvenile justice system. Meanwhile, behind the walls of the Compound, three violent juvenile offenders are writing a movie as they await their trials. It’s the story of their childhoods with the ending rewritten.
About the Subjects
JARAD: Arrested at 16 and facing 200 years-to-life for four attempted murders.
JUAN: Arrested at 16 and facing 90-to-life for first-degree murder.
ANTONIO: Arrested one month after his 14th birthday and facing 90-to-life for two attempted murders.
These film events directly support the work of UnCommon Law, enabling us to reach more people in prison and help them safely rejoin their families and communities. Please join us and spread the word!