What transpired was an exercise in "participatory photography*" now represented in a book and PBS documentary called, In A Whole New Way: Undoing Mass Incarceration By A Path Untraveled.
Introduced in the book are tools and possible ways to transform a system that comprised 4 million people in 2020. The focus of “In a Whole New Way” is keeping people out of jail and informing readers and viewers about probation, a sorely misunderstood and effective alternative to incarceration.
It’s both a film and book by the nonprofit Seeing for Ourselves, charting a whole new way to criminal justice reform. In this visually powerful medium, Fisher and Carrano share the intriguing history of probation which dates to the 19th century.
Prior to producing In a Whole New Way, the duo applied participatory photography inside of NY's project housing. Seeing For Ourselves is the non-profit umbrella. and the former book and documentary were called Project Lives.
Jonathan joined Mark Bello and myself for this episode on both the Lean to the Left and Justice Counts podcasts. Here are some questions we asked Fisher:
Q. You guys wrote “In a whole New Way” to shine a light on problems involved in our probation system today, right? Tell us about that.
Q. The book talks about probation reform, but isn’t much more needed when it comes to our system of criminal justice?
Q. Can you explain for us generally how the probation system works and why it needs reformed?
Q. In the book’s preface, you write that “By reforming probation and re-establishing it as a viable option for many ordinarily bound for jail or prison, we Americans will have embarked on one of the most promising paths toward this end.” So, are you advocating an expansion of probation to replace incarceration, at least in some cases?
Q. What piqued your interest in working on this project? What's your background; how did you get into this practice of participatory photography?
Q. What exactly is participatory photography and how is it used in this project?
Q. You were working in the NYC housing projects. What was that initiative like?
Q. How did you wind up serving New Yorkers on probation? What did you do?
Q. What surprised you most about probation as a criminal justice sanction?
Q. How are you leveraging the film and book for criminal justice reform?
Q. Who were the photographers and where are they now?
Q. You have a new initiative planned. Tell us about that.
Q. Many of those caught up in the New York City justice system are people of color. You and Carrano obviously are not. So, are you seen by some as sort of “white saviors?” Is that a bad thing?
Q. Tell us about the film, where it can be seen, and where your book can be purchased.
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Jonathan Fisher-Probation Reform
[00:00:00] Bob Gatty: To counter negative stereotypes, afflicting probation clients across the country, award-winning filmmakers, editors, jonathan Fisher and George Carrano handed cameras to people in the probation system, including its officers.
[00:00:16] What transpired was an exercise in participatory photography, and it's now represented in a book in a P B S documentary called In a Whole New Way, Undoing Mass Incarceration by A Path Untraveled. Introduced in the book are tools and possible ways to transform a system that comprised 4 million people in 2020.
[00:00:40] Jonathan's with us today, so stay tuned.
[00:00:44] Now the focus of A Whole New Way is keeping people out of jail and informing readers and viewers about probation, a sorely misunderstood, an effective alternative to incarceration. It's both a film and a book by the nonprofit, Seeing for Ourselves, charting a whole new way to criminal justice reform. In this visually powerful medium, Fisher and Carrano share the intriguing history of probation, which dates to the 19th century. Prior to producing In a Whole New Way, the duo applied participatory photography inside of New York City's Project Housing. Seeing for Ourselves is the nonprofit umbrella and the former book and documentary were called Project Lives.
[00:01:34] Hey Jonathan, thanks for joining Mark Bello, host of the Justice Counts podcast, and myself today.
[00:01:40] Jonathan Fisher: Thank you Bob and Mark. It's my pleasure.
[00:01:43] Bob Gatty: Hey, you guys wrote In a Whole New Way to shine a light on problems involved in our probation system today, right? Tell us about that.
[00:01:52] Jonathan Fisher: American probation Americans invented probation.
[00:01:55] It was an American innovation. It was invented in Boston in 1841 by a boot maker of all things. And from the start it was rehabilitative. It, it's, it sought to rehabil people as a way to keep them out of jail or prison and And so the media treated it respectfully from its institutionalization in Massachusetts in 1878, straight through to 1972.
[00:02:19] But that's when the crime wave hit. And with the crime wave, the media started treating probation as a slap on the wrist, if not a joke. And this was, ironic because that's just when the practice turned punitive. Jurisdictions across the land you could be violated for a sideways glance, as we say in the film.
[00:02:38] And now many jurisdictions have since then returned to probation's original rehabilitative roots. But others have remained punitive. And we think that it's the continued media, disparagement to the practice that is discouraged reforms, and kept probation from living up to its full potential.
[00:02:57] We wrote the book with the aim of correcting all this and helping people view probation in a positive light.
[00:03:03] Mark M. Bello: The criminal justice system itself is screwed up
[00:03:07] Jonathan Fisher: and how
[00:03:08] Mark M. Bello: Probation reform is just one part of that. And I applaud any attempt to re reform a broken system, but there isn't much more needed to help people in the criminal justice system, and who are caught up in mass incarceration and sentencing and over- sentencing and overcrowding prisons and so on and so forth, isn't much more needed?
[00:03:39] Jonathan Fisher: We would be the first to acknowledge that in fact, one of the strongest arguments for reforming probation is that the alternative is so much worse, that American prisons are a terrible alternative. You hear some success stories, but for the most part, we just warehouse people in deplorable conditions.
[00:03:57] We don't do much to prepare them for reentry. And and I think it's been, we noted, we've said this in the book, it was actually observed that modern America is the first civilization in world history where with the rape of men occurs more frequently than the rape of women. I could say on a personal note, I.
[00:04:14] I first heard about that phenomenon back in 1967 when I was a freshman in college and preparing to join one of the Washington dc marches against the war. And the local anti-war organizer warned us about what we would face if we happened to be arrested. And that horrified me and it horrifies me to this day that we can't keep people in prison safe.
[00:04:37] Just, and then, we could talk about policing. Of course, that's another area that needs reform now. It is a tough job and we we put on the police responsibility for taking care of people with mental illness 'cause we don't take care of them ourselves. And then, the police always have to fear, even if they're responding to a domestic quarrel that somebody has a gun.
[00:05:00] They're serving a population that's arms to the teeth. So they have some justification fulfilling their jobs. They're pretty challenging and they are. On the other hand it's not all that dangerous. And we feel that like the legal dispensation that police forces around the country have for employing deadly force whenever they might feel themselves threatened, is an invitation for abuse.
[00:05:24] In fact, if this whole syndrome may have reached its nadir as we mentioned in the book. In Phoenix in 2018, a little known case where police officers handcuffed who they viewed as an offender and within a short period of time came to see those handcuffs as a mortal threat to themselves, opened fire and killed the offender.
[00:05:47] Where does it go from there? I don't see how things can get more extreme than that. So absolutely. There are other elements of the criminal justice system that beg for reform.
[00:05:58] Bob Gatty: Okay. But we're talking about probation reform here. Can you explain a little bit for us how the probation system works and why it needs reformed? What needs to happen?
[00:06:09] Jonathan Fisher: Subject to guidelines, a judge consent to someone to probation if they feel that the offender can be safely supervised in the community. Yeah, that's basically it. And then they get assigned the individual gets assigned their probation officer. To whom they report periodically about their adherence to the conditions laid down by the judge in their case. And at the same time, the person on probation will remain subject to unannounced home visits by his probation officer. So these are the dual elements of the practice. It may sound like if somebody's getting off with probation, that's the way newspapers like to, to, to treat it.
[00:06:47] But honestly, if terms extend from five years to 10 years to 99 years if stipulations balloon to two dozen or more and include impossible to obey stipulations against associating with disreputable characters, which could include a, a person's whole family.
[00:07:06] Mark M. Bello: Jonathan. Jonathan, Are you saying that the probation violation offense carries a higher sentence than the original sentence.
[00:07:13] Jonathan Fisher: Is that no. Not saying that at all. But you can, you, but you can still be sentenced to a jail term for violating your conditions of probation. And your probation could be revoked on top of that, and you could actually ultimately wind up serving more time, because someone is on probation.
[00:07:29] And then, You could look at Pennsylvania where they're desperately trying to reform probation now. There, it's very common to violate someone if they miss an appointment with their probation officer even if they've had a job situation that they had to take care of, or they had a family emergency, doesn't cut any ice with them, they could be sent right back to prison.
[00:07:49] Now reformers, there are a lot of reformers in the probation realm and they're arguing for short intensive terms with only a few conditions that need to be obeyed and offering carrots as well as sticks to enforce compliance. And we certainly think that's the way to go.
[00:08:06] Mark M. Bello: Probation goes back to the 18 hundreds, right?
[00:08:09] Jonathan Fisher: 1841. Boston Boot Maker, he was and
[00:08:13] Mark M. Bello: for a long time, I presume it worked.
[00:08:16] Jonathan Fisher: A long time. It worked. Yes, it worked. It worked, like I said, for up until the crime wave, up until the 19 72 92 crime wave. It worked very well and it was treated.
[00:08:25] Mark M. Bello: I was tooling around on your website and I noticed that you mentioned the period of 68 to 72 as the breaking point, let's call it.
[00:08:34] Yeah. Before that, The probation system worked. It worked. And then there was this huge crime wave. Yes. And there were too many people in the system. Yes. And probation. The probation department or the probation system could not handle the influx. Is that, did that, is that how the problem started?
[00:08:55] Jonathan Fisher: It couldn't handle the influx, and there was all kinds of pressure on the function to become punitive, to lay down arduous stipulations. It was a combination of factors. In Los Angeles in the 1990s purchase probation officers had caseloads of a thousand.
[00:09:10] That's impossible. If there isn't a probation officer on God's green Earth who can handle that kind of a caseload, I think right now in New York City, the caseload is 50, and that's the normal amount that's recommended by the industry.
[00:09:22] Mark M. Bello: And you're in the preface of the book, you write that by reforming probation and reestablishing it as a viable option for many ordinarily bound for jail or prison americans will have embarked on one of the most promising paths toward this end. We still have a crime wave. We still have a lot of crime. We still have a lot of incarceration. Are you saying that expanding probation to replace incarceration would help the problem, or are you saying that. You ask what are you saying?
[00:10:00] Jonathan Fisher: I know what you're saying. I know what you're saying. Good question there.
[00:10:04] Mark M. Bello: Mark.
[00:10:04] Jonathan Fisher: Yes. Oh no, it's Mark. No, it's, no, it's a great, it is a great question. We do advocate offering Rehabilitator probation as an alternative to locking people up. So in that sense, you could say probation could expand. On the other hand, as we say in the book, we also think that very many people currently on probation shouldn't even be there.
[00:10:25] They should be diverted upstream to drug courts, to treatment, even released from the system altogether. No, we would be the last ones to advocate what's called the widening of the net of state control. No. So absolutely we're not advocating an expansive
[00:10:41] Mark M. Bello: I'm glad you, me, I'm glad you mentioned rehabilitative.
[00:10:44] I, I that's what probation's supposed to be. Yes. Instead you've got a kind of a punitive system. Correct.
[00:10:51] Jonathan Fisher: In many jurisdictions, not all, no. Like I said, many since the 19 72, 92 crime wave, many jurisdictions have walked back the punitive practice no way or more so than New York City. So we were happy to be embedded.
[00:11:04] It's what becomes the industry model. On the other hand, many others, jurisdictions as I mentioned, Pennsylvania, Remain very punitive and not really an alternative to incarceration at all. People on probation wind up pinballing between probation and prison. They're constantly tripped up by these, arduous list of of stipulations that nobody could really obey for that all that long.
[00:11:26] Bob Gatty: Hey, Jonathan, is your background. Are you do you have a legal background or
[00:11:31] Jonathan Fisher: is not the least. No don't insult. Insult.
[00:11:33] Mark M. Bello: Don't insult you.
[00:11:35] Jonathan Fisher: No. Hey, my sister worked okay. My sister worked for the Massachusetts court system, so we have that. I have a second cousin who was on the New York State Police and I myself, I'm gonna be telling this story at the industry conference next week.
[00:11:49] You know when I was on the hippie trail to the east back in 19 72, which is that. People, our generation might know that, right? It's the series of stops. Those from Western countries made from Istanbul all the way out to Bali or Katmandu. And I did things on that journey for which if I were lucky, I would've gotten probation.
[00:12:07] If the sanction had even existed in those countries at the time, more likely I would've been shot. This is to say that, not that I have lived experience, but I do recognize how easy it is to go astray. Especially at the stupid age of 16 to 24, especially of the male gender of which I remain a member.
[00:12:25] It could happen to anybody.
[00:12:27] Bob Gatty: Okay, so what's your background? You're a a videographer? A photographer?
[00:12:31] Jonathan Fisher: No, not even that. No, I okay. I was a born and bred in New York City and I was one of those New York City brats who loved the subway. Alright. So what I did after undergraduate school, I went out to Northwestern University in Chicago, got a master's in transportation, came back to New York, and worked for the subway system for 26 years.
[00:12:49] From 1974 to 2000. After which I did a variety, a variety of gigs for various agencies and businesses. And then meanwhile, George Carrano, Had his trajectory at the transit authority was similar to mine, but when he retired in 19 99, he devoted his life to the visual arts, which was his lifetime passion, and eventually led him in 2010 to found a nonprofit seeing for ourselves dedicated to participatory photography. And because I had gained so much experience in marketing communications both at the Transit Authority, and afterwards, he invited me to join the nonprofit, and that's how I wound up here.
[00:13:33] Bob Gatty: Okay, so that's how this project got started.
[00:13:37] Jonathan Fisher: You could say it got started in 20 10 when as our first practice was in the housing projects of New York City George was able to convince top official of the housing authority to let us equip and train people in the housing projects to document their lives photographically.
[00:13:53] I don't think anybody, George could have persuaded the housing authority to go along with this 'cause they were constantly getting beaten up in the press. But George is the most persuasive person I've ever met, and so he, he was able to make this happen and he found a great photography teacher who had actually had experience in participatory photography.
[00:14:13] So was the three of us running this project in the New York City public housing from 2010 to 2014. And it led to a book, project Lives which got a lot of notice and then led and in turn led to not only a refunding of the projects by the city and state, but it led to the wife of the then New York City Mayor to tell us, okay, you guys proved your concept in the housing projects. Can you please take your practice downtown to 33 Beaver Street, which is where the New York City Department of Probation is headquartered? 'cause those folks off also might benefit from your practice. And that's how it started.
[00:14:50] Mark M. Bello: The average person is sitting out there, me and thinking to himself. I know a little bit about the criminal justice system. I know a little bit about probation. A person has to want to stop being a criminal or has to want to stop going to prison.
[00:15:08] Jonathan Fisher: Yes, indeed.
[00:15:09] Mark M. Bello: And I'm sitting here thinking to myself, participatory photography, what the heck is that?
[00:15:15] And how does it prevent someone from failing at probation.
[00:15:22] Jonathan Fisher: Participatory photography is basically turning over cameras to those usually on the other side of the lens. It was basically originated among American aid workers in rural China in 1992, and it's been growing in popularity ever since.
[00:15:37] They realized those aid workers realized that when they turned the cameras over to Chinese peasant women and ask them to document their own lives photographically, the images that resulted were much more powerful and I impactful and inspiring than those taken by the local Chinese officials, which had been the practice before. .
[00:15:54] So that, as I said, that practice grew and grew in popularity. And it's a way for marginalized people to take control of their own public narrative. Now as to its applicability in probation folks on probation had been, has had been disparaged by the press since the 19 72- 92 crime wave where probation has been treated as a slap on the wrist or a joke, and that's not, that has handicapped their efforts to return to a lawful life. So what we thought was that if we delivered our programming to those on probation and their neighbors, 'cause New York City makes a point of having neighbors participate in all programming we could turn that media narrative around while we were imparting a marketable skill.
[00:16:38] That was the other benefit from our, what, from what we did there, is that we gave people a skill that they could use, not necessarily to become professional photographers, but to, because the art the visual storytelling is a, is an art that's coming to be more and more valued in the business sector.
[00:16:54] The best students, we actually turned into teachers of the class so that they wound up getting paid gigs by the probation department. What we were doing basically was running a 12 week college level course in the art of visual storytelling and then promoting the photography that came out of it.
[00:17:12] And people loved it. They they thought they were getting something from this that they had never gotten before, and people who went through that program wound up getting rearrested at way lower rates than other people who were clients of New York City probation at the time.
[00:17:28] Mark M. Bello: That's certainly the goal, that's for sure.
[00:17:29] Bob Gatty: Yes. Yeah. Okay in, in, in your book, you have, I guess there are stories told by people who are, who actually took the photographs. Is that right?
[00:17:42] Jonathan Fisher: Yes. They're artistic statements.
[00:17:44] Bob Gatty: Okay tell us a little bit about that. What type of stories, what.
[00:17:49] What did they what did they talk about and what's the value of it?
[00:17:53] Jonathan Fisher: Yeah. 'cause well, we wanted them to offer up their imagery. We wanted them to offer up their narratives at the same time. In fact, many of the photographs are captioned and the captions were the photographer's own work.
[00:18:05] We didn't caption them. And then I interviewed them and they, we talked about their background. We talked about their aims. We talked about how they like, their experience with probation. And some of them were positive and some of them were frankly negative. And we were a little bit concerned whether New York City Department of Probation would go along with some of the criticism that the participants had.
[00:18:25] But we were not pressured to change their stories in any way. And I think the probation department we got the final before it was published, we got the approval of the probation department. And that was true of the film as well. We got the approval of the probation department and of key participants in the film.
[00:18:42] We tried not to be like loose cannons, not to be just running our own show, but to be supplementing what everybody else was doing the same way that, we. This film or this book, we just offer that up as a compliment to the efforts of so many organizations that are doing great work in this field.
[00:19:01] You could look at the Reform Alliance, you could look at the A C L U, which is, and we screen the film for them as part of their Effort to reform probation in Delaware pew Marshall, Vera right on crime even, 'cause we believe that criminal justice reform often requires a bipartisan approach.
[00:19:19] So they're doing great work. They may not have had something like this book or a film before. And so we hope that they will recognize the value. It will be, useful to them and we'll all get to where we want to be.
[00:19:30] Bob Gatty: Okay. So you were working in the New York City housing projects, right? You had talked about that a minute ago?
[00:19:37] A little bit, yeah. And now Did this practice of participatory photography, was that involved in that work?
[00:19:45] Jonathan Fisher: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That's what we do, okay. The difference there is that instead of giving out digital cameras, as we did with folks on probation, we're just encouraging them to use their own cell phones.
[00:19:55] At the in the housing projects. We equip people with disposable Kodak cameras. 'cause back then, we were, we, George especially was so keen on photography, he recognized that film, nothing can exceed film like as a medium for showing photographs and, and people weren't that accustomed to digital manipulation at the time anyway.
[00:20:17] They were seniors and they were youths for the most part, because we could only offer the course during the day. And when we got to the probation department, we were serving a way different population. We were serving basically adults of working age, and we were able to offer the courses at night and online and serve them that way.
[00:20:34] But the folks in the housing projects, they gravitated towards the programming just as avidly as the folks on probation did. And they were especially pleased with the book when it finally came out in 2015. 'cause that really celebrated everything they did.
[00:20:47] Mark M. Bello: What was the aim in the context of the housing projects?
[00:20:51] Jonathan Fisher: To reverse, like very similar to what the effort and with the people on probation. For the past generation the media had been treating public housing in a very negative light. You could trace it back to the early 1970s when white people got rich enough to leave the projects and that, this being America that, that was that seemed to trigger a defunding of the projects by various levels of government.
[00:21:15] And that in turn led to crime and disrepair. That in turn, led to the media constantly saying what hell holes these projects were, which then convinced the government that public housing was a losing hand. They backed further away. It was this vicious cycle that went on and on for a generation.
[00:21:33] And what we hoped was that our promulgation of positive images, Public housing and the residents would undercut that whole syndrome. And to an extent, I think we succeeded because as I mentioned, as a result of the programming, the city and the state did come back to the funding table. Because of the book, not so much because of book sales, but because of media coverage of the book and the media reproduction of so many photographs from putting the photographs of public housing in a positive images of public housing before tens of millions of eyeballs, that kind of helped to reverse that syndrome and made public housing look a little bit more positive, at least locally in New York City.
[00:22:12] Mark M. Bello: Did you transition from public housing to probation or from probation to public housing?
[00:22:16] Jonathan Fisher: From public housing to probation because of the success in public housing. The mayor's wife, who's Shela McCray, the wife of Bill d'Blasio, who was the mayor at the time Shela said You guys go down to the probation department. You do for them what you did for the folks in public housing.
[00:22:32] Mark M. Bello: Someone asked you to
[00:22:33] Jonathan Fisher: do that? Yeah. Yes. We had no background in criminal justice whatsoever. You want to talk about my sketchy behavior on the hippie trail notwithstanding, we had no background. We all had that kind of behavior bet. But you guys must have stories.
[00:22:48] Mark M. Bello: Bob should absolutely be in jail, no question.
[00:22:50] Bob Gatty: Come on, Bello.
[00:22:53] Yeah, I did some stuff.
[00:22:55] Jonathan Fisher: We had no knowledge of probation whatsoever, but when it was offered to us, we were intrigued, we were captivated with the idea of getting to observe this dominant share of the criminal justice system that's unknown.
[00:23:07] Hardly anybody knows the first thing about it, including ourselves. So it seemed like a wonderful opportunity as well.
[00:23:13] Bob Gatty: Okay. So you didn't know anything about any of this stuff 'cause you're not a lawyer and you weren't involved in the criminal justice system?
[00:23:20] Nope. But after you got into it Jonathan, what surprised you most about probation as a criminal justice sanction?
[00:23:28] Jonathan Fisher: Yeah, that one's easy for me. What astonished me was the role of probation in sentencing. Yeah. I had no idea that, Americans think that judges determine the sentences. I may subject to guidelines, but it's basically the judge's call.
[00:23:42] Plea deals aside it's the probation function that effectively determines the sentencing. It's the probation function across the country that does a detailed investigation of the offense and the offender, and puts it together with a recommendation for a sentence, sends it to the judge who accepts the recommendation in the vast majority of cases.
[00:24:04] And it's like the unheralded role of probation in the criminal justice system, that was probably the most surprising thing to us. Okay.
[00:24:12] Mark M. Bello: You got the film, you've got the book. You're out here doing things like this. Talk to me about how you're leveraging the film in the book and what it's doing success stories, if you will, on how it's working in the criminal, just in, in creating criminal justice reform or probation reform.
[00:24:34] Jonathan Fisher: In a way, we're at the early stages of that journey. I was the film, we released the film onto the festival circuit back in 2021 and it's played the festivals for the last two years. It's been welcomed by over 200 festivals around the world. Now we're not talking Sundance, we're not talking Tribeca, but honestly, I was a first time movie maker, and I didn't have a film crew of 50 helping me out.
[00:24:55] With that we were welcomed by over 200 festivals around the world, winning over 60 awards. I think the last award we got in was in the South Sudan International Film Festival. So American Probation has fans that they may not have even heard about. I. And that raised the visibility of our case.
[00:25:13] And then we followed that up by in, just in this past January, a journey January journey down to New York City to screen the film in person for New York City's Deputy Mayor of Public Safety, Philip Banks. And he was so knocked out by the film. He dis he distributed the flyer to the entire New York City Council.
[00:25:30] Then we got the film accepted by P b s, so it wound up airing on public television over the summer. I screened it, as I mentioned, I think for the ACLU's efforts to reform probation in Delaware and the Council of State Government's Justice Center. I've been appearing on wonderful podcasts like yours.
[00:25:46] It turns out that, there's a lot of interest in, in, in all of this. We were very gratified by that, and all of this, serves to increase the visibility of our case. I think where we're most gonna have success in actually, creating reform on, is on August 29th when I'll be screening the film and signing books at the annual conference of the American Probation and Parole Association which is meeting in New York City this year.
[00:26:13] They'll be, they app the organization known as apa. That's its initials. It has 30,000 members effectively representing the estimated a hundred thousand practitioners of probation and parole in this country. They expect an audience of two to 3000 at the film screening. Those are the folks who are best placed, I think, to leverage these works both at their home agencies to convince them to, to leave punitive practices behind and to get their government affairs offices to lobby the executive and legislative branches to create legal conditions for probation reform.
[00:26:49] Bob Gatty: Sounds to me like from two guys who. Really don't have a I guess your partner Carrano has a background in in film and in media and so on, right?
[00:27:03] Jonathan Fisher: Photography that's, yeah, he's actually curated.
[00:27:06] Bob Gatty: But how did you, it sounds like it's been pretty successful. How did you get, what, how did you do the marketing?
[00:27:13] Who did that for you?
[00:27:16] Jonathan Fisher: But that was basically me. Now we've hired a publicist. Okay. Yeah, back in May we hired PR by the book to, to promote the book, and that's how we wound up on your show. Kim Weiss doing a great job of that. So I used to have somebody help helping us out. But before that it was, basically me I belonged to, I signed up with a Film, documentary filmmaker support group called Show and Tell, which is wonderful and helps out documentarians like myself, who are new, don't know the process, don't know how to get a film on p b s, they told us the ropes and that's how I was able to do it.
[00:27:48] Bob Gatty: And where are these photographers now that did all the shooting for the, for this project?
[00:27:53] Jonathan Fisher: Some had their own practices and have built their, built up their practices as a result. Photography practice. Yeah. Others had never handled a camera before, and so we aimed our teaching at the whole range of students.
[00:28:06] Okay. As I mentioned before, the best students were selected to actually teach the classes. And so they have paid gigs at the probation department. And I think it even says, it says in both the film and the book that one, one of the persons on probation became the associate director of the photography program.
[00:28:21] So I think this, it's helped them in a lot of ways. And, the, if we get the film and the book exposed, that will be promoting their work even more. And that's, of course one of the, one of the main objectives of our programming is to promote the their, what they've accomplished.
[00:28:38] I think they'll be able to take the book around and show the film around and say, Hey, this was me. This is what I did, now what could inhibit That of course is the continuing stigma, that's associated with probation that our work is trying to undo. When I, we haven't succeeded in doing that completely.
[00:28:53] And so that's one reason why we've only used first names in the book, even an alias at times. 'cause we do wanna protect people who want their privacy. Okay.
[00:29:03] Mark M. Bello: All right. Bob tells me that you have a new initiative planned. Can you tell us about that?
[00:29:08] Jonathan Fisher: Yeah, we've actually started it. It's the name of this one is My Climate Future, High Schoolers Picture Their World to Come.
[00:29:15] Now, I know a lot of people might be thinking are high schoolers as marginalized as folks who live in the housing projects or people on probation. In our view high schoolers have not been adequately included in the national conversation about climate change. And yet, they have the most skin in the game.
[00:29:33] Certainly a lot more skin in the game than folks our age. I actually conducted a pilot of this project up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where I lived. Did that this spring with Cape Elizabeth High School. It was quite successful led to press coverage and we're trying to parlay that into another grant.
[00:29:48] We, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, they actually had helped fund the probation project. And it wouldn't have gotten underway without that kind of support. And we're hoping for the same kind of support this go round. So that's our third initiative. My climate, future high schoolers picture their world to come.
[00:30:05] Bob Gatty: Cool. Cool. All right. It occurred to me, Jonathan, that you Carrano are two white guys.
[00:30:13] Jonathan Fisher: Yeah. And we tried to keep that hidden.
[00:30:16] Bob Gatty: But most of the people or many of the people that you were working with are people of color. Did you have any kind of issues with resentment or any kind of problems resulting from that?
[00:30:31] Jonathan Fisher: We were always wary of that, because it's in the air, it's something you always have to watch out for. Even though it's ironic because our whole practice is actually trying to empower other folks to be able to tell their stories publicly for the first time yet still, we were nervous about it, but ultimately, it was never raised.
[00:30:48] I think the key thing is here is that. The folks on probation in this class, they did the heavy lifting, not us. Okay. And the people who will potentially benefit from their efforts are not like them. Most folks on probation in this country are white. It wasn't the case of white saviorship at all, I think.
[00:31:05] But if you want to talk about me, my personal feelings. I just rewatched last night. I just re rewatched on YouTube. It was free to Kill a Mockingbird and I was bowled over that remains for me one of the most powerful films ever made. And don't Tell Rob DeSantis you. Yeah, I know. So I'm okay with any kind of saviorship.
[00:31:26] In fact, I'm remembering Schindler's List where there was a gentile savior. And I don't think that aroused any opposition. I think this issue may be overblown to a certain extent. I hope so.
[00:31:38] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Let's hope so. Let's hope this country's getting past a lot of that stuff.
[00:31:42] Yeah. Oh,
[00:31:42] Mark M. Bello: I'm just, I'm blown away by the the whole book banning issue. All these constitutionalists are telling us we can't read certain things. Yeah.
[00:31:51] You've got a film, you've got a book. People wanna get involved, they wanna read your book, they wanna see your film. Where can they find the film? Where can they, Buy the book?
[00:32:01] Jonathan Fisher: In a whole new way dot com. That's our website. You can rent the film for a nominal fee. There are a lot of links where you can buy the book, including Amazon in a whole new way.com.
[00:32:12] Mark M. Bello: Before Bob closes, do you see this concept as being. Duplicative, able to duplicate in other areas. You've got photography. What about other skills that a person on probation or who's coming out of the criminal justice system could engage in and succeed at?
[00:32:34] Jonathan Fisher: Oh, I think arts across the board. In fact, when we brought our photography programs to the New York City Department of Probation, it joined a host of other arts programming.
[00:32:43] They have poetry, programs, they have dance programs, they have music production programs, they have painting programs, a whole range. 'cause they came to view from their experience, the provision folks that arts are a great path to redemption. There's hardly anything better. And I think that's been shown in prisons as well.
[00:33:03] People have become writers, people have become painters in prisons. Now. We happen to think that photography itself may be better suited than any of the other arts to imparting the lesson that everyone has their own perspective. And that, I think, was one of the more striking lessons that our participants in our program learned.
[00:33:22] 'cause some of them didn't have the advantage of. The education when they're growing up to even hear that kind of talk. But with a camera, you're making these lens choices. You're deciding on depth of field aperture. There are so many ways in it, which the perspective is yours and not anybody else's.
[00:33:40] And by the same token, Anybody, we think anybody with adequate training and adequate equipment can take a great photograph. That's not true of poetry or painting or anything else which may require really advanced skillset. We think arts program in general is a great re rehabilitative tool.
[00:33:57] And if you're trying to impart the lessons that, the lesson that everybody has their own perspective, there's probably nothing better than photography.
[00:34:04] Bob Gatty: Okay. Jonathan, it's been great learning about this and talking with you about it. Do you have any other closing comments that you'd like to make?
[00:34:14] Jonathan Fisher: I would love to hear from your listeners. You can email us at email@example.com. That's our email address. And as I I think I mentioned, I'm trying, I'm building a network now on LinkedIn. Among criminal justice reformers and photographers. And if you are interested, please look me up Jonathan Fisher on LinkedIn.
[00:34:32] Love to connect with you. We can continue the conversation.
[00:34:35] Bob Gatty: Alright, great. Thanks very much guys. Appreciate it.
[00:34:39] Jonathan Fisher: Thank you Bob.
[00:34:40] Mark M. Bello: It was great to talk to you. It was great to talk to you, Jonathan. You too, mark. Good luck. Good luck with it. It's an intriguing program. Thank you so much. Do you have any, do you have any success failure statistics are.
[00:34:50] Jonathan Fisher: Do I have any, sorry. Success. Success, failure statistics, success failures among our participants. Yeah.
[00:34:57] Mark M. Bello: Yeah. I presume that there's a huge percentage of people that are succeeding at this. Oh.
[00:35:03] Jonathan Fisher: In our programming. Yeah. I don't think we've had hardly any dropouts and I may. Okay, good.
[00:35:08] I think 4% of the folks who have gone through our programming wind up rearrested compared to 14% normally. It's quite a reduction. And that hasn't been, we haven't had an unhappy customer.
[00:35:19] Mark M. Bello: That's, give somebody a purpose and they'll succeed.
[00:35:21] Jonathan Fisher: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
[00:35:24] Bob Gatty: Alright, thank you guys.
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