BRIC’s Alternative to Incarceration Program Creates New Pathways
As New York State continues to advance youth justice reform, the arts are increasingly becoming a pathway to positive change.
In Brooklyn, NYSCA grantee BRIC is working with the King’s County District Attorney’s office on integrating media arts instruction into their Project Re-Direct, a program that aims to reduce recidivism and enhance community safety, while providing an effective alternative to incarceration. The program targets youth who are facing their first felony charge and provides a rigorous curriculum including counseling, education and employment.
Participants in BRIC’s Project Re-Direct Media Apprenticeship Program undergo intensive hands-on media production training. As they learn how to write, film, and podcast, participants develop professional skills and networks that prime them for success in today’s creative economy, as well as new behaviors from healthy self-expression to collaboration. Piloted in 2017 and expanded in 2018, the program has served 30 teens ages 16-22 so far, and is projected to reach up to 25 more this year.
NYSCA spoke with BRIC Education Director Skye McLeod about the program, and how creative arts programming can provide transformative experiences for young people while also strengthening communities.
What are BRIC’s goals in engaging the arts to reach justice-involved youth? Why media in particular?
First and foremost, we are excited and eager to support these young men in telling their stories. We want to hear what they have to say. Media (and in particular, podcasting and video) can be a powerful conduit to tell these stories.
We are also eager to add new voices and perspectives to our community--we are invested in creating a new generation of media makers to carry the community media banner forward.
Finally, we feel that in-depth training in state-of-the-art video production and podcasting equipment and post production tools are valuable skill sets to add to the participants’ resumes.
What do participants experience during the workshops?
This intensive has many stages: first we begin with pre-production activities including scriptwriting, narration, and story development. The participants then learn our professional digital audio recording and editing. In the next stage we train them in our video cameras, light kits, and field microphones where they transform their podcasts into a film. The final stage is editing all of the video and audio clips together in Adobe Premiere, a powerful video editing software. The program culminates in a special screening of their work for the participants, their families, and representatives of the DA’s Office.
Throughout the intensive the instructors build trust and engagement with the participants by helping them “co-produce” their pieces. They offer technical support and constructive criticism and encourage the participants to create the best films that they can. All have significant production and post production experience, as well as an expertise in education. Our instructors have also had experience working with court-involved and incarcerated populations at Rikers Island and the Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
How does film and media production become a tool of expression for the participants?
I think that it goes without saying that media production (especially video and podcasting) is a form of literacy where the participants can express themselves in a variety of ways.
Just the act of telling their story can be therapeutic for the participants.
Many of the participants haven’t had an opportunity to learn these skills, so it’s wonderful seeing them open up and get so excited about this medium. The PRD participants have addressed many issues affecting themselves, their families and communities. This includes how they have managed their anger through boxing, how it feels to be targeted by the police, their growth as a hip-hop artist, the stresses of being a father at a young age, and their professional aspirations in clothing design, among many others
What kinds of skills and professional pathways does the program cultivate?
Creating films and podcasts is an inherently collaborative process.
From day one of the program, the participants rely on each other, cultivating a strong sense of accountability and teamwork within the group. They also develop writing and storyboarding skills, critical thinking, and strategies for giving constructive feedback.
We are proud that by the end of the program, all of our participants are certified as a Brooklyn Free Speech Community Producers. This credential gives them access to over 700 community producers, a vibrant network of artists, media makers, producers, and activists who are always looking for new creative-minded people to help on their shoots. Two of the participants so far have gone on to work in the media industry. One is now working as a studio engineer at a recording studio in Florida, and another participant started his own production company creating music videos in the NYC/New Jersey metropolitan area.
In addition to the personal growth you’ve described, how does the program strengthen New York communities?
BRIC’s Project Re-Direct Media Apprenticeship Program strengthens the Brooklyn community by creating access to skill-building and career advancement opportunities for new up-and-coming media makers as an alternative to incarceration.
The Apprenticeship provides professional development training that can lead to further employment opportunities, which has the potential to play a transformative role in the New York cultural sector by developing a pipeline of skilled media-makers that will strengthen the diversity and equity of the industry.
This program recognizes and nurtures the full potential of court-involved young men as an asset to their communities.It gives them an outlet to tell their stories as well as to build their futures as leaders.