A film chronicling a program created to help parolees get acclimated to college life has won recognition at the Los Angeles Film Awards.
Political Science Professor Renford Reese helmed “RA: A Lifer Cohort,” which earned honorable mention in the documentary short film category. Reese submitted the project to the film awards in July and was notified five weeks later that his entry had received recognition.
“It was exhilarating and wonderful for us to get the award,” Reese said. “It was surprising also. I am not a filmmaker by trade. I am a professor, and I do community outreach.”
Project Rebound will host a screening of “RA: A Lifer Cohort” on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. in Ursa Major.
The film focuses on Reese’s Reintegration Academy, a program he founded in 2009. Participating parolees, screened by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Adult Parole Operations South Region in Pomona, spend eight weeks at Pitzer College in Claremont. They receive lessons in academic orientation, life skills and career development.
In the program, which focuses on vocational education, parolees also get a free laptop computer and are registered for classes at Mt. SAC. They also receive assistance with completing financial aid forms and attending a job fair.
Since its inception, the program has enrolled 196 parolees and has an 85 percent success rate of participants enrolling in college or getting a job, Reese said.
Reese said he made the film to enable the academy participants to tell their own stories.
“I wanted to do something that really captured the impact that this program had on the population,” he said. “I wanted them to smell the flowers, see the trees and really consume the energy of the college campus. That helps reduce the stigma of being formerly incarcerated.”
The program is a prime example of learn-by-doing, Reese said. Instead of reading about incarceration, 43 of the students in his criminal justice class were able to sit down and talk face-to-face with people who had been in prison for 20 years or more. Their interactions are included in the film.
“They are the true experts on prisons, recidivism and prison reform,” he said of the academy participants.
The Reintegration Academy provides a network of alumni, staff and volunteer mentors that works as a collective for parolees, but the most important aspect of the program is what it provides beyond life skills, Reese said.
“The bigger thing that we do is that we give them confidence,” he said. “It is their confidence that allows them to launch themselves into various endeavors.”