Note: This story originally appeared on the CatchLight website.
Ninety percent of formerly incarcerated people who seek education stay out of prison, according to data from S.F. State and the Journal of Correctional Education, while the rate for those who don’t seek education is 30 percent. For the past fifty years, Project Rebound, has helped formerly incarcerated people attend college across the state of California. Many of the individuals they serve are first-generation college students, with no or limited university experience. For these reasons, recruitment can be challenging, but once enrolled Project Rebound has a proven track record of retention and ultimately providing a life-changing experience to members of the community they serve. In the last decade, 140 students have graduated from San Francisco State through Project Rebound, with a 95 percent graduation rate.
The pilot “Visions of Justice” photography workshop was held August 20-23, 2018 at San Francisco State University, immersing court-involved youth in visual storytelling practices as a means to nurture self-expression, self-respect, and to explore their personal experiences and ideas of freedom and justice using photography. Partnerships, timing, and workshop methodologies were designed with an eye towards alleviating barriers that often impede court-involved youth from benefiting from Project Rebound’s higher education enrollment opportunities and support services. The workshop’s instructional team was lead by 2017 CatchLight Fellow and SF State Alum, Brian L. Frank, alongside SF State Alum/Professional Photographer, Justin Maxon, and CatchLight Impact & Engagement Manager, Jenny Stratton. This workshop was generously supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
The impact of the workshop was threefold, 1) providing tools and space for self-expression for court-involved youth 2) creating an on-ramp to higher learning support for Project Rebound Students, and 3) externally sharing unheard stories and powerful insights on the criminal justice system with their peers, policymakers and the larger Bay Area community.
Read on to hear from some of the students on what it felt like to participate in this workshop:
“It was a very moving and empowering experience telling my story through pictures. In a very short time the people in this workshop became family, they didn’t judge me, but encouraged me to tell my story honestly.”
“I felt accepted and was surprised how many people commented that they liked the portraits I made and I thought everyone made some really good photos. The staff are good teachers and really cared about my story. They checked up on me one day when I couldnt make it. ”
“I haven’t felt creative like this since my childhood, which ended far too soon. This week brought me back to being a child in the most beautiful way. I feel like the people I’m around they don’t understand or value this creativity but you guys did. I feel like no one here judged me; the opposite people laughed at my jokes, liked my poetry, my photos. You all made me feel like my creativity mattered and the only real hard thing was that I didn’t want this week to end.”
“I will never forget the people I met this week- I am grateful for this opportunity and each person involved”