Filmmaking as an intervention strategy for incarcerated and homeless youth
Teens in the juvenile justice system tell their story
Filmmaking is a powerful intervention strategy for youth who have had a challenging path because film allows for free expression and skill-building in an otherwise regimented and
structured school or correctional facility environment.
Free expression through art is vitally important as it allows young people the space to explore their emotions in a supportive environment that encourages creativity. This opportunity allows the teens in the juvenile justice system to see themselves as full of potential instead of full of doubt. And the technical skill-building allows them to explore possible career paths in the future.
Summer 2022 at
Harris County Juvenile Probation Department
Over five weeks, the teens at HCJPD made an entire film scored by their original poetry and inspired by Tupac Shakur's writings . The teens told their collective autobiographical story. The premise of their film entitled, "Closer to the Sun”, was about a 13-year-old boy growing up without a father, a mother addicted to drugs, an older brother in jail. And, this main character has to figure out how to be a positive role model to his younger sister even though he never had a positive role model of his own. The film was a meditation on breaking the cycle with ray of hope at the end where the younger sister achieves academic success says: “But at least I know nothing is impossible, you’ll be unstoppable and live on.”
Tupac Shakur's poetry was inspiration for the film
A few instances of how filmmaking made a difference:
● One young man who realized that he had a natural talent for writing poetry in this class, was so inspired that he wrote three and a half pages of poetry at home and brought it to class the next day. He shared his writing with the teaching artist, full of pride from his accomplishment.
● One young woman who wore a hoodie far over her head and didn’t talk much, became animated and engaged when she had an opportunity to record her voice rapping (her hidden talent) in the class. She even became a lead actress in the film. At the film premiere, she asked if the program would continue in the fall because she wanted to learn more about filmmaking.
● One young man was rigid in class, talking low and not moving much. But, when he wore a theater mask in a class acting exercise, he opened up and was free and open with his movements. Another side of his personality was revealed through theater mask work. This goes to show the power of art and how it can help crack the shell that teens sometimes build around themselves.
Long-term Community Impact
When one thinks of filmmaking programs like this, it’s important to realize the compounded impact that this program will continue to have in the community.
When one teenager is inspired and positively transformed, that teenager has the power to influence everyone around them: friends, family, teachers, new acquaintances.
The teenagers consequently make smarter life choices which raises the bar for everyone around them.
Returning for a 2nd residency, the students wrote a fictional narrative film entitled “Border Life” based on their familial experiences crossing the border from Mexico into the United States.
In the film, a young man struggles with the trauma of being separated from his family by immigration officers 15 years prior. Now in his mid-20's and working at a taqueria in Texas, he is offered the opportunity to become a border agent - a high salary plus benefits. Accepting the job, he encounters the man responsible for separating him and his parents, which sets him on a new life path.
The film written , acted, and produced by the teens depicts the dire struggles of immigrants that grow up between two cultures. The residual positive impact of this filmmaking program will be felt for years to come.