Students’ journey from incarceration to classrooms featured in premiered film

FITE Film, a documentary depicting the path to success in higher education followed by several formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley students, premiered on campus Thursday night.

Four current Berkeley students and alumni are profiled in FITE, which stands for From Incarceration to Education, a film produced by alumna Skylar Economy and co-producers Clarence Ford, Sheila Wagner, Tristan Caro and Christian Collins, also an alumnus.

A panel discussion followed the screening of FITE Film. Participants included (left to right) David Maldonado, Shalita Williams, Richard Rodriguez-Leon, Clarence Ford, Skylar Economy and Christian Collins. (UC Berkeley photo by Roxanne Makasdjian)

The documentary tells the stories of Ford, a first-year master’s candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy; Ph.D. student David Maldonado; undergraduate Shalita Williams; and undergraduate Richard Rodriguez-Leon.

The young filmmakers hope to show their work in prisons, county jails and juvenile detention centers across California and beyond — and illustrate to inmates there that they too can rise above their criminal records.

Economy said the film offers evidence of “options, resources and people that can and will support those affected by incarceration to go to a better place.” There are more than 2.3 million men and women locked up in the U.S., which claims the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.

Ford, one of the film’s producers as well as one of the students it follows, pondered how he might have responded if he had seen a film such as FITE at some point in the three years he spent in prison.

Master’s student Clarence Ford, one of those profiled in FITE Film. (UC Berkeley Public Affairs photo by Roxanne Makasdjian.)

“It would have had a big impact,” said Ford, 29. “It would have had me thinking differently.”

Today Ford is working towards a master’s degree and hopes to be a policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Justice. He also hopes to mentor others who want to find a better life after prison.

The film was financed in part by a first-place win in the 2016 Big Ideas Contest sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Economy and her partners also are developing a network of online resources by partnering with mentorship and advocacy organizations such as the Berkeley Underground Scholars and Root & Rebound to help aid the currently and formerly incarcerated transition back into society. Underground Scholars is part of Berkeley’s Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence, which works to ensure success for nontraditional students.

Additional information about Berkeley’s support for formerly incarcerated students can be found in Berkeley News stories about Berkeley Underground Scholars, about a Shakespeare scholar with a prison record and about campus action to Ban the Box, ending the practice of requiring Berkeley job applicants to report misdemeanor or felony convictions when applying for jobs.

A trailer and more information about the film can be found on the FITE Film website.