Civil Survival Board Member Chris Beasley was joined by many members to view the documentary film From Incarceration to Education, or FITE. The film details the stories of four students who attend UC Berkeley as part of the Underground Scholars Initiative (USI), which helps formerly incarcerated students to navigate higher education and find a community on campus. Several of the film’s subjects were on hand to lead a discussion about the life changing importance of higher education to justice-involved individuals.
Berkeley native Clarence Ford is one of the students profiled. He talks about making the transition from the criminal justice system to academia. Having a criminal record can make it difficult to get into college, but, says Ford, it can actually be an asset once you are there. “If you’re able to overcome prison, jail, streets or whatever, that experience in itself is so rich,” Ford says. “That’s a system in itself. Academia is a system in itself too. So I feel like if we can learn this thing, we could also learn this.”
USI’s co-founder, Danny Murillo, enrolled at UC Berkeley in 2012 after 14 years in prison. He began his education in solitary confinement, then got his GED and went to community college when he got out. Like Ford, he sees untapped potential in those who reenter society after being locked up. For example, a man who was incarcerated with Murillo “used to break into a car in less than 60 seconds,” said Murillo at the FITE premiere. “That’s intelligence. He never had the opportunity to put that intelligence to good.”
The film was initially released to a number of juvenile halls, where the message of freedom through higher education has been well received. The film is now available online. The goal is to get the film shown at juvenile detention centers nationwide, to let incarcerated youth know that college is an option, and to prevent recidivism. Currently, more than two-thirds of those released from prison in the U.S. are rearrested within three years, according to the National Institute of Justice. The film explains that the rearrest rate declines by 43% for those who receive higher education.
FITE is “catered to people who are currently incarcerated or have been incarcerated, to show how one can take the initial steps to achieve higher education,” according to co-creator Skylar Economy. But she hopes the film reaches a broader audience as well, to demonstrate to the public “why it’s important to have people with these pasts in higher education. It shouldn’t be stigma.”