A Blade of Grass Films

S1 E5 | FULL EPISODE

Transforming Justice: Gregory Sale

In collaboration with individuals honing their ability to succeed after incarceration, Gregory Sale developed Future IDs at Alcatraz, a socially engaged art project, exhibition, and community program series about justice reform and second chances at the iconic prison-turned-national park in San Francisco Bay. Sale is a 2018 A Blade of Grass-David Rockefeller Fund Joint Fellow in Criminal Justice.

AIRED: August 24, 2020 | 0:09:25
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TRANSCRIPT

Sale: The United States incarcerates more people

per capita than any other country.

We have 5% of the world's population,

but 25% of the incarcerated individuals.

If you look at everybody who has a record,

it's about a third of the population.

It's massive.

What we were investigating

was how could we translate advocacy

and reform efforts into a visual language?

And if we knew the power of one individual story,

what would it be like to look at 40, 50, 100 individual stories?

"Future IDs at Alcatraz" is an exhibition created

by individuals with conviction histories

as they visualize their future selves.

So many people in this room merit acknowledgment

for the contributions you've made to this project.

I kept noticing how California was really leading

reform efforts nationally.

I built a relationship with this organization

in Los Angeles called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

Over five years, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition

members and I have been meeting and planning

and running workshops.

My commitment was to investigate

that difficult space of reentering society

after periods of incarceration.

The project has grown to partnerships

with over 20 community organizations.

The exhibition is in a container

for a series of community programs.

"Future IDs at Alcatraz" Release Party

is one of 26 programs that we've had to date

in the exhibition space.

Alcatraz has been designated

as an international sites of conscience.

The National Park Service invited our program

because it could further that platform.

♪♪

Kishi: Alcatraz is a very historic site.

We get around 2 million visitors a year.

People come out here wanting to learn about prisons.

Unfortunately, people tend to come out here

with very narrow visions of who or what a prisoner is.

And so the unique part of this exhibit

is that it shows a lot of the multifaceted identities

that make up a lot of people who are

or have been incarcerated.

Kim: I am a former juvenile lifer.

At the age of 16, I was tried as an adult and convicted,

sentenced to 25 years to life in prison,

and I was released after 20 years.

Parole departments had no idea

what to do with us as young lifers

because most lifers who were released

were in their 60s or 70s.

Here I was, 36 years old,

wanting to build a life and get a job.

I'm here today with some of the core project collaborators.

We are working to try to change some of the laws.

Dominique Bell told this amazing story

at one of our meetings

about meeting with a very busy senator.

Let's be honest.

Politicians have a lot of concerns voting

on behalf of a bill that may release a group of people

that have been deemed dangerous to society.

I told the senator, like, "You don't have a lot of time

to sit here and entertain my story.

I'll just show you something."

Sale: Dominique pulled out his old inmate ID,

and then he pulled out his university student ID,

and he said that's the difference.

And we decided there was something there

worth investigating.

Each artist in this exhibition did a lot of individual

soul searching to identify some of their future goals

and intentions.

And then they translated that into an identification card.

♪♪

♪♪

Kim: I was the bogeyman in the Korean community.

I was the doctor's kid who got into trouble,

and I could see why people were so uncomfortable around me.

You know, I was the person

that they were striving not to be.

You had people whose family would tell them,

"Look, you didn't tell anyone where you were for a long time.

Just say you left the country. Just say you were"...

I was told by many people

that I should just forget about my past

and try to move on with my life.

But how can you not talk about something

that, at the time, was really the majority of my life?

I'm not supposed to talk about the fact

that I spent 20 years in prison?

This should not be a factor of shame to hide.

My past does not define who I am today.

And I brought my mom here, and I want to ask her

what it was like for her.

Reid: I spent most of my adult life in and out of prison.

When someone is sentenced to prison,

they do their sentence

and most the time, are rehabilitated

and deserve a chance,

like everybody else, to pursue their dreams.

My own piece is about being on the board

that the district attorney of San Francisco

has for formerly incarcerated individuals.

I was prosecuted by this office

two dozen times in my life, and never in a million years

would I think I'd be on the board

of the same prosecuting office.

Garcia: When I applied to Loyola Marymount,

I wanted to be seen in that well-rounded package

and not because I had went to jail and prison

or had dealt with substance abuse addiction issues.

I didn't want that to be leading my story.

University of Resilience popped into my head.

Essentially, it was how I looked to my future.

I was, like, so constrained to put it actually on there.

And Greg was like, "Just put it on, put it on."

From the art perspective, it was like,

"Use your imagination."

A lot of formerly incarcerated people, like,

have lost their imagination.

It's important to create a future ID

because it gives the participant

the ability to use their imagination.

I think that's a certain permission

or allowance that society affords

artist and artistic production.

It becomes an invitation, an invitation to engage ideas,

concepts that might otherwise be challenging for people

to entertain.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

[ Laughter ]

♪♪

I just want to touch because this is my family.

You are my family.

Sale: Many people I love and care about

and have been affected by this system,

but because I've never been convicted,

it's very important that people with this lived experience

are central to the direction and messaging of this work.

1, 2, 3.

I do that every morning.

It represents the past, the present, and the future.

I came to prison when I was 19 years old,

got out when I was 60.

To have a job, to pay rent,

to get up and fix your own meals every day,

this is freedom.

My ID reflects what I wanted in my life.

I have an opportunity to connect with people through motherhood.

Thank you

for helping create this space.

♪♪

[ Sighs ]

The freedom that I get to live today in my life.

through choices I've made over the course of the past

almost 15 years

has continually given me another chance.

That's the message I'd like to convey to people

that cross my path in the life that I live today.

Kim: So much of your life is identified

by the card you carry --

your license, your certifications,

your business card.

For those who are systems impacted,

your life for a long time was identified

by your prison ID.

Power to the people.

Kim: So rather than ask,

"What do you want your life to have been?"

We ask people to project into the future.

"What would you like your life to be?"

♪♪

♪♪

[ Birds calling ]

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