Mirror/Echo/Tilt, is a performance and video project created in collaboration with Shaun Leonardo, Sable Elyse Smith, and individuals affected by the justice system. The group uses participatory storytelling methods to create an ongoing archive of video, performance, text and curriculum that explores personal experience with the criminal justice system and prison industrial complex.
Using methods based on visual storytelling, participants translate personal narratives into performance so they might think, feel, and move in a way not defined by their experience of arrest. The process includes reinterpreting the Hero’s Journey, the narrative structure common to many myths and stories, that often describes being tested, finding inner strength, and returning home. Vignettes are filmed in decommissioned institutional spaces such as prisons, to emphasize the unreal nature of these social structures of control, and for participants to vanquish the power of such spaces over their collective past. The project’s goal is to facilitate participants’ agency in telling their own stories and ultimately, to reframe existing narratives defining the “criminal.”
To date, we have implemented two cycles of workshops. In 2015 we piloted the series at The Point in the South Bronx, and in 2016 at the Fortune Society in Queens, working with individuals caught in the hold of cyclical incarceration. During Spring 2017 we are collaborating with The Brooklyn Justice Initiative on a youth divergence program. When individuals successfully complete the course, their cases will be closed, sealed and not appear on their adult record.
We are documenting our embodied storytelling methods to design a visual, performance-based, social justice curriculum, including input from a range of populations affected by the system, to be archived on line with visual documentation and critical commentary. Our tangible goals are to create a single channel film, installation, photography series, scholarly research and a web archive of pedagogical methods and short videos. Our larger goal is to have actionable impact on youth recidivism. We believe that only by breaking down cultural constructions of the criminal, the prison and the idea of correction, can we envision new social systems beyond our current normalized structures of justice.