In the opening scene of the new short documentary From Incarceration to Education, Berkeley native Clarence Ford talks about making the transition from the criminal justice system to academia. Having a criminal record can make it difficult to get into college, but, says Ford, it can actually be an asset once you are there.
“If you’re able to overcome prison, jail, streets or whatever, that experience in itself is so rich,” Ford says. “That’s a system in itself. Academia is a system in itself too. So I feel like if we can learn this thing, we could also learn this.”
There are many people at UC Berkeley who have experience with both systems, thanks in part to programs like the Underground Scholars Initiative (USI), which helps formerly incarcerated students navigate higher education and find a community on campus. From Incarceration to Education, or FITE, follows four members of USI through their struggles and successes at school. Ford, who was first arrested for firearm possession while at Berkeley High and is now pursuing his master’s in public policy up the hill at Cal, is one of the students profiled. He is also a producer of the film.
FITE has its roots in a documentary film class Skylar Economy took when she was a junior at UC Berkeley. She had read an article about USI, so she met with the program’s co-founder Danny Murillo. They ended up talking for hours and that interaction was the impetus for the film, which Economy co-directed and executive produced.