ON NOVEMBER 12, we brought together the filmmakers of College Behind Bars, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, with BPI’s community of alumni, families, staff, faculty, and supporters for a special screening of College Behind Bars at the legendary Apollo Theater. Hosted by Malcolm Jenkins, special guests including Ken Burns, Vivian Nixon, Jumaane Williams, Craig Wilder, and BPI alumni featured in the film were part of an inspiring presentation before a packed house.
For those who couldn’t attend in person, watch the trailer and read the remarks below.
College Behind Bars will premiere nationwide on PBS on November 25 and 26, 2019.
Highlights from the evening’s Special Guests
Sebastian Yoon, ’17
Program Specialist Open Society Foundation
I discovered liberation in education. While reading books and writing essays in my cell, often late at night when it was quiet, the prison walls faded, my loneliness faded, and I became free.
Being in college also gave me hope and purpose. Before BPI, I was nervous about—and afraid for—what the future would hold for me when I came home. Today, working with colleagues who are compassionate and committed to social justice, I feel optimistic and completely at home.
Found of Listen Up Media, Philadelphia Eagles’ Two-time Super Bowl Champion
With education comes growth. With growth comes self-confidence. With self-confidence comes motivation, an eagerness to want more for yourself, your family, and an opportunity to be more than you thought you were capable of, thus leaving strong potential to set an example for the next generation and end the cycle of incarceration.
To every one of you tonight who contributed to this program, either through your time and commitment or through private donations, thank you. We have more work to do, as not everyone is convinced. But if we lift up our collective voices, we have a greater chance of convincing those in power to support it.
Executive Producer, College Behind Bars
Eliminating Pell grants for people in prison cut 35 million dollars from the federal budget. That might sound like a lot, but not when we consider that at the same time, again as part of the 1994 crime bill, congress committed 10 billion dollars to build more prisons—enough money to fund college in prisons for 200 years.
Wesley Caines, ’09
Chief of Staff, Bronx Defenders
I enrolled in BPI’s first cohort and graduated in 2009. Today, I am the Chief of Staff at the Bronx Defenders. After 25 years of incarceration, my journey and successes are directly attributable to the opportunity I had to get an education.
I love this program. It allowed me to transcend incarceration and gave me the credentials and skills necessary for success after 25 years in a cage.
Tamika Graham, ’17
Canvass Director at JustLeadershipUSA and the Lead National Organizer for Beyond the Box Initiative
[My mother’s] voice is important in this film and this conversation. She represents a lot of Americans who are worried about the outrageous cost of education, and where our tax dollars are going. However, we cannot abandon people in prison nor the investments that give them hope for the future. Instead of spending $80 billion a year to lock people up, let’s build communities and create a world that is more fair and less racist.
New York City Public Advocate
We wouldn’t have gotten this far without formerly incarcerated leaders paving the way, including Tamika, Darren Mack and other BPI alumni.
Last month, I visited BPI’s home at Eastern Correctional Facility. All the energy you see in this film, it’s still there with a new generation of students. So, here in New York City, we can look forward to benefiting from their contributions as advocates and leaders.
Jule Hall, ’11
Program Associate with the Ford Foundation
We all know, the stigma of a felony conviction is a lot to overcome. BPI graduates—many of whom are here tonight—are erasing that stigma every day, and paving the way for everyone who is coming behind us.
Because of my college education, my time in prison had purpose. I developed critical thinking, writing and analytical skills to build a career doing something that I find deeply meaningful. I’m a program associate at the ford foundation with the gender, racial, and ethnic justice unit, bringing directly impacted experience to philanthropy.
Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship
As a formerly incarcerated woman who has been working at this for nearly twenty years, I can tell you: College Behind Bars could not arrive a better time. While the 1994 Crime Bill destroyed college-in-prison twenty-five years ago; today we are closer than ever to bringing it back. There is now bipartisan legislation before congress to restore Pell eligibility for people in prison. That is because of the determination of formerly-incarcerated advocates and leaders across the country. There is still so much work to do, to make sure access to higher education behind bars is fully restored, to put an end to mass incarceration, and to make our country live up to its values.
Dyjuan Tatro, ’18
Government Affairs and Advancement Officer for the Bard Prison Initiative
In 2014, I watched the BPI Debate Union beat West Point and decided to join. Being on the debate stage against Harvard was unforgettable. I am so glad that the cameras were there that day, because what happened on that stage, and what is happening at BPI, will change America’s understanding of who incarcerated people are, and what they are capable of.
Craig Steven Wilder
Professor of History at MIT and BPI
I was thrilled but not surprised, Dyjuan, when BPI beat Harvard. These students work their way into a highly selective program, they meet the demands of a rigorous curriculum and the expectations of classmates who aim for academic excellence—and they do so under conditions that no one would describe as optimum for, or conducive to, academic success.
In the hope of rescuing a different future for us all, we must take some lessons from BPI—this program has much to teach us about the role of education in society.
Giovannie Hernandez, ’17
Client Services Associate at Brooklyn Community Bail Fund
When someone is incarcerated, their entire family is impacted. Love tethers us in that way and keeps us connected. I know it wasn’t easy for them, but my family was there for me the entire time I was in prison, and they’re here tonight. I don’t know if they realize how essential that support was and continues to be. So tonight, I want to thank all of our families for supporting us – for believing in us, and for being there. We would not be here without you.
Founder and Executive Director of BPI
In the coming years, we will end mass incarceration and restore investments in education to precisely the places where leaders have prioritized punishment.
Shawnta Montgomery, ‘17
Peer Recovery Counselor, Fortune Society
Now that I’ve been home for a few years, I appreciate even more what it means to be a Bard alum. Coming home hasn’t been easy for me, and I am still on that journey—and happy to be here celebrating this film and our BPI family.
Sister of Rodney Spivey-Jones
The primary reason i decided to participate in this film is because I love my brother. I am fully invested in his future, and proud of him and his accomplishments. Being in college gave my brother hope and a purpose. It gave me hope for his future.
(All Photos by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Skiff Mountain Films)
Ways to watch:
- Tune in to the broadcast premiere on PBS. Episodes 1 & 2 air Mon. Nov. 25, episodes 3 & 4 air Tue. Nov. 26, 9pm EST/8pm CT
- Stream anytime online at PBS.org starting on Nov 25.
- Stream anytime via the PBS Video App on your smart TV or device starting on Nov. 25.