It's out of my hands

Produced, directed, written, edit supervision & performance by


and San Francisco County Inmates, circa, 1987

Here is what happens when a student in our Video Class learns the lesons we taught.What we taught was the poli-socio-psycho-cultural-economics of media. 




In early spring of 1986 because of my media activism I got a call from Julie Mackaman of theFilm Arts Foundation, an organization for independent film and video makers, I was also a member. Julie called and said a woman had called their offices looking for someone to teach video to inmates of the San Francisco County jail system.


        The program as I learned from calling and talking to Ruth Morgan was a California Arts Councilfunded program. Ruth was the local Coordinator for the Artists in Residence program. The program allowed artist from different artistic disciplines, to teach these disciplines as visiting Artists in Residence, to people in the local county jail. Ruth Morgan explained that the previous instructor of the Video class, a white female, had been unsuccessfull in really having an impact or imparting much information to the inmates. We talked at length and I convinced her that it really required two people not one to do the subject and the students any good. I also told her I was interested in teaching the class. So she said OK, send my resume along with my associates and some samples of our work as filmmakers and she would be in touch. I really did not want to hazard this alone not knowing what to expect.


Al Marshall, the other instructor of the class, and I had known each other for several years. Al was the processor technician for the film lab at KPIX-TV for their film unit. When film was replaced by video he was retrained as an engineer in many phases of television production. Al and I began to work on independent film projects together. He was one of our co-producers on the documentary on theJackson presidential campaign. When I broached him with this new job possibility he was definitely interested.


After reviewing our resumes and tapes, within two weeks Ruth Morgan assured us of the job and asked that we help her write a proposal to raise money to videotape a drama class that was being done for the first time with inmates in the 'work furlough' program. 'Work furlough' allowed people still under jail system supervision the opportunity to live in a group residence and to go to work full or part-time and return to the residence after work to complete their sentences.


The drama class had only been done at the San Bruno jail which was south of the city San Francisco that had the larger of the two jail facilities for the city and county of San Francisco. Ruth thought that because this was a new dimension to the Artist-in-Residence program she believed that a video of this would help with future funding.


Week two was spent viewing two documentaries. The first documentary was on Africa. The documentary made the case for the historic roots of racism as being economics. The students saw the informative aspects of the class and liked the perspective presented to them because it was an aspect of African history that they had not considered. The second documentary was a live jazz concert. The interest in the two subjects proved to be an inspired juxtaposition this was evident in our post viewing conversation. We then watched the programs a second time with the sound turned off. Al and I described and analyzed the images and ideas and the way in which the programs were produced. The first film was a historical documentary, the second film a live music concert with audience. We described the techniques, the different production styles and analyzed the visual content of each program. We discussed the use of narration to embellish and enhance the visual content. We also described the documentary using a single camera technique versus the performance being recorded by a multiple camera technique. We deconstructed the material.


Because there are two of us teaching this has allowed us the opportunity to give special attention to people who showed more aptitude than other students. The original curriculum outline we had for the first five weeks was revised. The group absorbed material at a faster rate than we had anticipated. Our team teaching technique proved itself and the Principal of the jail school confided to us there was a waiting list of people who wanted to take our class. The school curriculum included adult basic education ; math; reading; tutoring; English; typing; GED; offset printing; horticulture/landscaping; culinary arts and automotive technology.


The Artists-in-Residence were teaching – music; theater/performance; painting & drawing; ceramics; creative writing; sewing/handicrafts; quilt-making and dance/exercise. There were also counseling services that included financial aid; referrals; application assistance and post release planning. Al described the environment after a month as being “Just like high school only with bars.”


We taught until the end of 1990. Over the next year we took material we had recorded including student shot material and produced a 53 minute documentary on the entire San Francisco County Jail, California Arts Council, Artists-in-Residence program. That program is entitled, Art From Jail: Artists and Inmates Creating Art, 1990, 53 min, color, video.


This documentary shows artists, working with the inmates, we see the artists who talk about their process working with inmates, we see samples of students work in a variety of disciplines. The disciplines were video, painting and drawing, quilt-making, creative writing, dance, music, ceramics. The Sheriff, jail staff, the program coordinator and former inmates who were in the art program talk about the value and use of arts in the criminal justice system. The finished program was funded by the San Francisco County Sheriffs' Inmates Services Department, California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.




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