Under a new project, inmates at the California men’s prison are learning the skills of film and TV production.
The programme has been backed by Hollywood producer Scott Budnick, a producer on The Hangover and founder of Anti-Recidivism Coalition. The ARC is an non-profit organisation that promotes criminal justice reform, where high-achieving formerly incarcerated young adults work to support one another, while stopping the flow of people into the criminal justice system.
The team of filmmakers are all serving lengthy sentences and are working together under the name ForwardThis productions, with the aim of beginning careers in production when they are released.
Under the programme, they have learnt to operate cameras and work in editing and screenwriting.
Anthony Gomez, 26, who is seven years into a 21-year sentence, told The Times: “It serves two different communities. It benefits the outside, but it also provides opportunity for those in here. We all never imagined doing this but we did find purpose in doing it now.
“Not only are we now passionate about what we do, but we know for sure that for the rest of our lives this is pretty much what we want to do.”
With Budnick backing the programme, the prisoners have received mentorship over Zoom from leading figures in the entertainment industry. These have included The Joker editor Jeff Groth, and Booksmart co-writer Susanna Fogel.
Kim Kardashian, who has turned her attention in recent years to prison reform while training as a lawyer, gave a talk about short-form content.
Budnick told Spectrum News in 2020: “Being able to integrate my world in the entertainment business and my world in the philanthropic and political world, and bring them together for massive social change was absolutely one of the most special moments of my life.”
Opened in 1854 in Marin Country, California, San Quentin Prison currently houses around 3,800 inmates.
In recent years, there have been pushes for the prison, which has a notoriously tough reputation, to prioritise reform and rehabilitation.
San Quentin Prison has another connection to stardom, as country singer Johnny Cash performed there at least twice in his career.
In 1958, he performed for the prisoners, inspiring a young Merle Haggard to perform when he was released.
Cash returned in 1969 to perform, releasing a corresponding album and documentary about the experience.