Life Outside

Posted on November 2, 2011

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The Howard League for Penal Reform has been working with young people, who have gotten in conflict with the law, to prepare reports about the reasons for their offending, the conditions in detention and their situation when they get out. The URBoss project is based on the belief that the young people who have first hand experience with the British penal institution are the real experts, and need to be listened to in order to improve the failing prison system. URBoss did extensive consultations and base their recommendations on the problems that young people themselves point out.

Together with writer and editor Greg Pittard, I was fortunate to be able to work with their amazing team, going to Birmingham to do video workshops with young offenders, record voice overs with them and later shoot and edit Life Outside, a campaign video based on the ideas of  young offenders.

The report ‘Life Outside: collective identity, collective exclusion’ was launched on 12.10.11 (I meant to blog this a long time ago, but only now get around to it). I learned much from working with the team and young people. I can only recommend reading the report, some of the statistics are quite eye opening.

Following the week long preparation workshops and brainstorming for ideas, we were set to return to Birmingham on the 9th and 10th August, to record voice overs on the first day and shoot in the neighbourhoods of the young offenders who had come up with the ideas for the film. The spreading of the riots to Birmingham on Monday night triggered some hectic phone calls between the team, but from a distance it was impossible to get a grip on the situation.

We decided to drive up anyway, and hope for the best. And we were not let down: everyone who had promised to come, did show up for the recording and, in spite of everything going on in the UK at the time, spent several hours working with full focus on the voice over. After leaving the recording studio however, it was clear that more unrest was expected this night. We decided to not stay the night for another reason: our remit from the workshop group was to film an everyday life scenario, film in the real environment that young offenders come to when leaving custody. The riots the previous night had taken place in exactly those neighbourhoods that we wanted to film in. It just wasn’t everyday life there. We also figured that cameras might not currently be very welcome around there.

We went for some food near the Bullring, keeping an eye on Twitter and the inspiring Birmingham Riots Tumblr. When the first information started floating that the situation got somewhat tense, we headed back to the car. That night some young men were run over by a car and died.

For a little while I considered staying and trying to cover that nights events. But reason got the better of me. Without local contacts or knowing the area at all, on my own, it would have been a bad idea to run around with large cameras.

Update: I have now also added this video on my Vimeo account.

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Posted in: my videos, videos