Brian Asey | Letter from a Documentary Filmmaker In San Quentin

By Brian Asey

Me myself, being a documentary filmmaker who is incarcerated, things can be challenging because of the things we can and cannot film or talk about while using state equipment. To tell a true authentic story of inside a prison you have to live it and tell it from within the prison. 

I’ve seen people come into San Quentin from time to time trying to exploit the incarcerated or trying to tell our stories and not getting it right. You can not come into a prison two or three times and think you have it right. Cori spent over a year inside SQ talking to us, watching us, asking us questions and getting to know us to be able to represent us in a true authentic way.

It’s important to get the story right because these are lives you’re talking about. Most people inside prison suffer from some type of trauma yet most don’t even know it.

Here in SQ the administration allows us to tell these stories and it’s important to highlight the transformative work of the people inside to show society we are not our crimes.

Prison can be an ugly place but at the same time I have seen many people change their lives for the better, I’m one of them.

The difficulties is dealing with administration and the bureaucracy that’s involved, finding people that want to share their story, and having the resources and ability to tell the story well.

The difficulties with Cori were the lockdowns, fog lines, (fog line is when the fog’s too heavy to have program due to fear of an escape), and not having access to the media center. (The media center is where we meet). 

I do believe the criminal legal system can be fixed. One has to want to fix it, and I don’t believe that’s the case in America.

First we need to change the language we use when we’re talking about the incarcerated because language is everything. If language is used that dehumanize a person then the incarcerated person is seen as less than human, so you’re treated that way. For example, calling a person an inmate or prisoner. What about calling a person by their name and state that they’re incarcerated.

I think the way to fix the system is to change it from a system of punishment to a system of rehabilitation. More of a restorative justice system where both parties, the system and perpetrator receive help because the victims are left dealing with the trauma from the crime and that’s where the feeling of punishment comes from.

If you were to invest as much money on people or schools as done on keeping locked away, our communities wouldn’t be the way they are today. Prisons are a big business and as long as people are profiting off prisons things will NEVER change because we’re living in a society that is founded on greed.

These are things we already know and as long as big money is involved, prison will NEVER change.

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Postscript: My name is Brian Asey and I just so happen to be incarcerated in a prison. If you’re interested in seeing some of my work, visit growingupbehindbars.com. Growing Up behind Bars is a doc I’m working on and that’s the website with a trailer.

Brian Asey is the Executive Director of the San Quentin Prison Report. 

Fonda Shen

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