CCI holds incarceration awareness event

Conor Battles

Visual arts, a short film and fine restaurants were some of the unusual themes the College of Communication and Information’s Media and Movements initiative explored while discussing the American prison system Thursday night.

“GONE. Expressions of Incarceration in America” was held in Taylor and Franklin Halls, and combined multimedia presentations and a group symposium to present the perspective of prisoners in America.

Jasmyn Robinson, a freshman psychology major, attended the event hoping to find out more about the realities of the American prison system.

“I want to be able to understand other people’s side of things,” Robinson said. “I want to have an understanding of what it’s like being in jail and how our system works. I think it’s important to know about what happens to these people.”

The event began with an art exhibition by The Real Cost of Prisons Project, a Massachusetts-based organization that produces original comic books and art by incarcerated people in an effort to spread awareness of poor living conditions and corruption in American prisons.

Visitors to the art installation in Taylor Hall browsed original comic art and drawings from the project’s artists and prisoners while protest music from the likes of U2 and Public Enemy set an appropriately incendiary tone.

Following the art exhibit opening, the event moved to Franklin Hall for a screening of Tyler Pina’s film “88 Cents.” The film follows a recently-released inmate trying to start anew after five years behind bars.

Pina hopes that the film resonates with viewers by examining the struggle and stigma faced by incarcerated people.

“Recidivism in the U.S. is this high, not because people want to go back to jail, but because systemic challenges prevent full rehabilitation,” Pina said. “Given the lack of support and the stigma associated with having a criminal record, it’s between difficult and impossible to integrate back into society. I think talking about this is the first step toward correcting the system.”

Pina stressed the high number of incarcerated people currently in the United States, and the importance of representing their voices in the media.

“Over 640,000 people are released from U.S. prisons each year,” Pina said. “Of those, 59 percent are unable to find legal employment after eight months of release. After five years, 76 percent end up back in prison. What do these numbers say about the prison system? What do they say about our society?”

Following Pina’s film, which also starred Kent State alumnus Matthew Weitz, Northeast Ohio restaurateur Brandon Chrostowski spoke about his restaurant’s mission to employ ex-convicts.

Chrostowski’s restaurant, Edwins, provides job and training opportunities for recently-released inmates. The restaurant was the subject of “Knife Skills,” an Academy Award-nominated short film released last year.

“I hope people leave this event with an open mind and a new perspective,” Pina said. “Sharing our stories is the best way for us to connect with each other, and I think that’s an important part of being human. We can learn from each other and then turn this knowledge into action.”

Conor Battles is the CCI and libraries reporter. Contact him at [email protected].