In a first of its kind, an extremely innovative prison project, the San Quentin Film School, became a 7 part series hosted on the Discovery Channel. The San Quentin Film School is a documentary that follows 9 selected inmates incarcerated in San Quentin as they learn the many different aspects and techniques of film making. They are then allowed to view certain aspects of life behind bars in San Quentin through the prisoners’ eyes.

The San Quentin Film School is the brainchild of award-winning documentary film director, Bruce Sinofsky. Sinofsky is best known for his documentaries, Paradise Lost, Brother’s Keeper, and Hollywood High. Sinofsky has won a Directors Guild Award and two Emmys for his films.

If only programs like this were replicated in prisons and jails across the country, we could reduce recidivism by showing prisoners that we care about their success and that there are countless paths to creative expression and productive work.

In 2009, Sinofsky shopped his idea of taking a select few inmates, teaching them filming techniques and allowing them to make their own documentary, to over 40 prisons. He was denied until San Quentin accepted the idea.

Sinofsky and his team began screening potential candidates/inmates and eventually narrowed their selection down to 9 inmates. They then learned the basic techniques of how to use a camera, tripod, film, editing equipment, voice-overs, etc. They were then allowed to begin filming as they began to express their art and stories as inmates of San Quentin.

The warden of San Quentin has expressed great satisfaction in the end results of this program. Public safety is the number one goal for the staff of San Quentin, and they strongly believe that when prisoners have a chance to express themselves through art, self-esteem, self-confidence, and control of emotions are gained, making a healthier human when that prisoner is eventually released into society.

The seven-part documentary, San Quentin Film School, was aired on the Discovery Channel as well as the Sundance Film Channel. Here is a link to view episode one.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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