The new award-winning documentary, The Prison Within, asks viewers to change what they think they know about incarcerated people. In the gripping film, narrated by Hill Harper, survivors of brutal crime and prisoners gather to share their respective untreated trauma by participating in the Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG). The group is described as a restorative justice program that helps incarcerated individuals understand and gain insight into the underlying circumstances of their lives and the choices that led them to prison. The documentary, which is slated for the upcoming American Black Film Festival (ABFF) as a competitive feature (and nation-wide release on August 25), sprang from director Katherin Hervey’s criminal justice background as well as mass incarceration.
“I was in a men’s prison,” the former criminal justice attorney tells So Booking Cool, “And really seeing men who were really considered like the worst of the worst, irredeemable, many of them still sentenced to actually die in prison, coming into such deep levels of transformation and taking such tremendous accountability for themselves and their crimes, and their communities, and their children, and their lives behind prison walls, and then leaving the prison walls and going out into the world where, theoretically, people are ‘better,’ and really kind of being disappointed.”
One of the documentary’s subjects and cinematographers, Troy Williams, has demonstrated the transformation and accountability that Hervey highlights. While serving his 18-year sentence at San Quentin Prison, Williams was on a mission to better himself. In addition to taking self-help and media classes, he founded San Quentin Radio, formerly known as the San Quentin Prison Report. The platform is regarded as the first “behind bars” audio production program and received the Excellence in Journalism Award for Community Journalism by the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California. Williams also became a certified paralegal, helped develop and facilitate VOEG, and initiated the efforts to have TEDx San Quentin prior to his parole.
In addition to entrepreneurship, filmmaking, and audio-producing, Williams has taken on roles of teacher/trainer, freelance columnist, Editor-in-Chief, leader of youth-development programs and co-organizer of restorative justice symposiums, health fairs, job fairs, and financial literacy programs, etc. In 2018, he was awarded with the Soros Justice Fellowship, which funds outstanding individuals to undertake projects that advance reform, spur debate, and catalyze change on a range of issues facing the U.S. criminal justice system.
When it comes to navigating people wanting to hold his past against him, Williams says he chooses to disregard negativity. “…I’m confident in who I am as a man and as an individual who’s come home with some gifts. I understand the wrongs that I’ve committed. I’m humbly apologetic to the people I victimized throughout my lifetime of activities, and even my own family, my parents, my children. But I have a purpose, I have a mission… to take all that I’ve been through and re-wrap that and turn that into something positive. And I refuse to let any of the negative naysayers get in the way.”
Watch the interview to learn more about The Prison Within; who Hervey and Williams think specifically needs to see the film; whether Hervey has ever had her past held against her; whether William’s desire to tell stories and create stems from his childhood; how Harper and his book, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones factored into him being the right fit for the film’s narrator; whether Hervey and Williams think the mass incarceration crisis will cease; and more! For more information, visit the official website for The Prison Within.
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