Inmates at San Quentin prison are being given the opportunity to learn film production in a scheme backed by Hollywood.
The notorious prison in California where Johnny Cash famously performed in 1959 and 1969 is offering convicts the opportunity to learn the craft of film and television production in the hope that they will be able to forge a career in entertainment after they are released.
Four inmates who are serving long sentences for violent offenses, including carjacking, aggravated mayhem, and murder, have formed Forward This Productions while incarcerated.
26-year-old Anthony Gomez who is seven years into a 21-year sentence for the role he played in a drive-by shooting says the program is not only helping those locked up in San Quentin but it has a benefit for the outside world too.
“We all never imagined doing this but we did find purpose in doing it now,” Gomez tells The Times of London.
“So 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.”
Forward This was opened in late 2021 in San Quentin’s media center that also produces a newspaper, The San Quentin News, a website, and two podcasts, Ear Hustle and Uncuffed. The content must be approved by the prison’s public information officer before it is published.
“It’s a way for us to give back to the communities that we hurt,” says Ryan Pagan, 35, who is serving 77 years to life for killing a man during a bar fight.
“We can’t take back what we did and what got us into prison, but what we can do is hopefully create content that can help those that are at risk of walking down the path that we went down.”
The prisoners draw upon the checkered stories of inmates for their content, making personal videos focusing on individuals in San Quentin. They have also produced funnies such as a parody of The Office. So far, views on their YouTube page are modest with the top video about how an inmate handles a relationship while incarcerated.
The project has been given a boost by the involvement of Scott Budnick who produced The Hangover. Budnick is also the founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, an organization that promotes criminal justice reform.
Budnick tells the Hollywood Reporter that in Hollywood no one cares if a person has been incarcerated. “Show up early. Work your a** off,” is his advice to would-be production staff.