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Sneak Preview of New Documentary: "College Behind Bars"

May 09, 2019 11:23 AM

(ABC 6 News) -- State prisons have been in the national spotlight for many different reasons; from inmate assaults, to funding issues to overcrowding. However, a new documentary is taking us inside prison walls and showing the power of education.

"College Behind Bars" is a four-part documentary series that follows incarcerated men and women as work towards earning degrees through the Bard Prison Initiative.

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Award-winning filmmaker, Lynn Novick, directed and produced the series. Other names on the film include Producer, Sarah Botstein, and Executive Producer, Ken Burns.

“Over four years we were able to bring cameras into maximum security prisons to film a number students,” said Novick. “You cast your net pretty wide on a documentary like this, you don’t really know when you start out who is going to be a ‘good character’ so-to-speak. So we filmed 400 hours, we filmed dozens of people in class, out of class, with their families, going home and a whole variety of situations. Then we had to boil that footage down with our editors.”

Dyjuan Tatro is one of those featured in College Behind Bars. “When you grow up in poverty in a single parent household, one of six kids with a disabled mother, your chances at being successful in life are not very real,” he said. “So I ended up in gangs at a very young age and went to prison for assault.”

Tatro served 12 years behind bars in the state of New York. Not only was he paying his dues and making amends, he was busy laying the foundation for a better life after prison. “It was in prison; through the Bard Prison Initiative, that I was able to turn my life around,” he said. “When you're in prison and you don’t have any other opportunity, you have to make the most of the one that’s been given to you.”

On Wednesday, dozens of people got a sneak preview of College Behind Bars during a special screening at the Twin Cities PBS station.

“It feels like it is coming out at the exact right time, which we never could have predicted because it took so long to get the film made,” said Novick, “but this is a time when our country is really having a serious conversation about incarceration and education and injustice and inequality.”

It’s also something Minnesota First Lady, Gwen Walz, has made a priority. “Education comes to me naturally, I was in public schools for 29 years,” she said. “I believe in the transformative power of education. Specifically, I have had a chance and an opportunity to learn about the Bard Prison Initiative and I have been working with that for the past six years. So I am anxious to have Minnesotans learn about that and then perhaps think about education in a Minnesota model.”

Walz says when people have an opportunity to get a higher education in prison, the likelihood of them ending up back in prison goes down. “So it’s a huge cost savings … and more than that, it’s a personal savings,” she said.

Walz says work is underway to get more education programs into Minnesota state prisons.

As for Tatro, he’s living proof of what can be accomplished. “I got out of prison [in 2017], moved to New York City, finished my degree,” he said. “People take my degree very seriously. It is a Bard College degree, I get the same education as any student in Bard College. Today, I am a consultant on a movie project with Warner Brothers, we won the debate in 2015 [New York inmates beat Harvard’s debate team during a highly publicized competition].”

Tatro says at the end of the day, investing in prison education is “not going to cost money, it’s going to save money”.

College Behind Bars is set to air on PBS on November 25th and 26th.

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Hannah Tiede

Copyright 2019 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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