I'm currently writing for the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) blog and on Friday October 7th had the pleasure of leading a workshop on blogging at Otisville Correctional Facility, to a group of men who are currently serving time. I've visited the men there in the past to write about the prison's monthly TFI film screenings. The VP of Education Programs at TFI, Vee Bravo, has just started this workshop program to teach the men creative skills such as writing short films, and blogging. I'm thrilled to be a part of it!
I stayed up late Thursday night figuring out how to structure the blogging workshop. It was a unique challenge because the men at Otisville do not have access to internet and some of them haven't for decades. One man has been in prison since 1981, so the last time he was free we lived in a pre-internet world. Blogging is a powerfully democratic tool that only exists because of the internet, ditto social media. A lot of the 'how-to' guides for writing blogs I saw on the web begin with choosing your platform, and frequency of posting, items that aren't applicable to men in prison.
I decided to focus on the basics first, 'What is a blog?' 'What are different kinds of blogs?' and opened it up to the room of six men for discussion and collective brainstorming. The absolutely remarkable thing about the men was how focused they were on the work we were doing. With the short film and blogging workshop combined we were sitting in a room for 6 hours doing intensive thinking and learning. By the end of it my brain was tired, but the whole time the men were focused and interactive and eager to learn. A sight I have rarely ever seen in the outside world, where we're constantly offered new sources of distraction.
Next, I wanted to convince the men they each have a unique voice, and that blogging is an excellent way to share it. I brought the below Martha Graham quote with me. The men immediately began writing the quote down, as soon as I put it up on the board, and while I read it out loud.
Then I asked the men to describe who they are. I started by sharing a bit about who I am, my heritage, the neighborhood I grew up in, my home life and educational background, my skills and passions, and the men wrote a bit about who they are and then shared it with all of us. I did this exercise because all of their experiences, leading up to their time in jail and during their time being incarcerated, contributes to their unique point of view. They have a lot of knowledge and insight to offer the world through their writing. I wanted to be sure they knew that.
Finally I shared sample blogs I curated from the web to give them various differing examples to be inspired by.
Being there, working with them, I felt grateful for the enormous amount of time and freedom I have to write whatever I want whenever I want and post it in a blog. I'm going to commit to posting a blog every Wednesday and Saturday, from now onwards, taking advantage of the freedom I have and the life I've been given.
Right now the plan is for the men at Otisville to write a blog in response to a TFI film screening at the prison, and they'll mail it to TFI where I will type it up and post it to our blog.
- Lillian Isabella
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I am an advocate for gender parity in the entertainment world and write, act, and produce with a mind to facilitate that change.