Prison town, USA
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. Karen herself has been an integral part of the educational, social service, and criminal justice reform arenas for more than 25 years.
About the Film: In the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom, a prison opened in rural America every 15 days. 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. Weaving the stories of a laid-off mill worker turned guard, a struggling dairy owner and an inmate's family stranded in Susanville, the film sheds light on an industry that is transforming the social and economic landscape of rural America.
Purchase tickets here.
“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!