Annelise Wunderlich and Richard O’Connell
Mill Valley 2017
A profile of a unique prisoner education program.
The film focuses on the Five Keys Charter School, notable as the first high school custom-built within an adult jail. Housed in San Francisco’s county jail, it serves both male and female prisoners. By law, participation is mandatory, and those who embrace the program are able to earn their high school diplomas, while also developing tools and knowledge to be able to make it on the outside. The program was developed in response to a criminally high rate of recidivism, a clear signal that traditional methods were not succeeding. With a solid, unflashy approach, Wunderlich and O’Connell economically follow two inmate students, William, an older African American man who has spent most of his life in jail, and Bethany, a younger woman who has been a drug addict and lost custodial rights of her kids, as well as a teacher and prison officers. While some remain skeptical, the program has graduated an impressive number of students since 2007, with a corresponding drop in recidivism, and has been replicated elsewhere.