NEW YORK, NY (October 26, 2017) - A powerful new film series, “We Are Witnesses,” gives voice to those whose lives are enmeshed in the criminal justice system—the formerly incarcerated, crime victims, officers of the court, and more—and provides a rare 360-degree portrait of crime and punishment in America today. The series of eighteen films, directed by Jenny Carchman, is available now on The New Yorker’s and The Marshall Project’s Web sites. “We Are Witnesses” was created by The Marshall Project in partnership with Participant Media, The New Yorker, and Condé Nast Entertainment (CNÉ).
There are currently 2.2 million people in our prisons and jails, and with each one comes the stories of those who have been affected: victims of crime, family members, corrections and police officers, parolees, judges, prosecutors, and defenders. “We Are Witnesses” puts a human face on the overwhelming statistics that define our over-incarcerated state.
“‘We Are Witnesses’ is about the people whose lives are entwined in the system, and the roles they play,” says Neil Barsky, the series’ executive producer and creator. “Their stories reveal both a tragic system and the nobility and heroism of the men and women ensnared in its net.”
The series includes an introduction by the New Yorker staff writer Jennifer Gonnerman, who has covered the criminal-justice system and brought national attention to the story of Kalief Browder, a young man who spent three years on Rikers Island without a trial. She writes, “These testimonials inevitably prompt questions of culpability—as well as the uncomfortable realization that the ‘we’ in ‘We Are Witnesses’ may apply not only to the individuals speaking here but to us all.”
Barsky, David Remnick, of The New Yorker, and Dawn Ostroff, of CNÉ, are the executive producers of the series. Participant Media serve as co-executive producer. Additional support for “We Are Witnesses” was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Following are links to the series, as well as longlines for each short film:
Tareaphe Richards - Retired corrections officer
Richards offers a rare glimpse into working at Rikers Island, one of the country’s most notorious jail complexes. He describes his own fear of walking through the corridors outnumbered, and reveals the human costs on both prisoner and guard.
Francis Greenburger – Father of a formerly incarcerated, mentally ill son
Greenburger describes the anguish of being the parent of a mentally ill man who has become ensnared in the criminal-justice system.
Venida Browder – Mother of Kalief Browder, who is now deceased
Kalief Browder, who arrived at Rikers Island at age sixteen, spent three years there while awaiting trial. Venida Browder recalls her son’s ordeal—fights with prisoners, beatings from guards, and lengthy solitary stays, as well as the day Kalief hanged himself, two years after his release. Venida passed away from a heart attack in late 2016.
John Gleeson – Retired federal judge
Gleeson, a retired federal judge who spent his career at the Brooklyn courthouse, reflects on the challenge of meting out justice.
Steve Osborne – Retired police officer
Osborne, a retired N.Y.P.D. officer, speaks up for his colleagues. In response to the video of Eric Garner’s arrest, he defends the officers who brought Garner to the ground, saying that they followed a practice commonly used in his experience. However, the choke hold, which was used on Garner, was banned by the N.Y.P.D. in 1993.
Eduardo Padró – Retired state Supreme Court judge.
Padró, a retired New York State Supreme Court judge, details the daily life of a state judge, including his overwhelming case load and the immense pride he took in his work.
Scott Hechinger – Public defender
Hechinger, a passionate believer in justice, speaks of the disillusionment of working in the criminal-justice system.
Alicia Barraza and Douglas Van Zandt – Parents of an incarcerated man, who is now deceased
Barraza and Van Zandt recount the events that led to the death of their mentally ill son, Benjamin.
Arrested for arson and sentenced to four years in prison, Benjamin suffered beatings, was sexually abused, and eventually hanged himself in prison.
Aswad Thomas - Crime victim
Thomas had a promising future in basketball, but his dreams were derailed after he was shot while sitting in his car outside of a convenience store. He recounts his terror, and also describes how he finally managed to move beyond his feelings of rage.
Ismael Nazario - Formerly incarcerated juvenile
Nazario gives us an insider’s view of serving time as a juvenile—the fights, the loneliness, the deals with other inmates. But the worst thing about serving time, he concedes, is “getting comfortable” in prison.
Susan and Kenneth Jackson, Sr. – Parents of a murdered son
The Jacksons recount how a random act of street violence resulted in the death of their son, Kenny, who was shot while attempting to thwart a convenience-store robbery. Their grief is compounded by the Jackons’ belief that their son’s killer got off too easy.
Ed Gavagan - Crime victim
Gavagan barely survived a stabbing that was part of a gang initiation. He relives the pain, the nightmares, and the long road to recovery. He hopes that his assailants, once released, can have a second chance at life and “have a job. Maybe a family.”
Ayana Thomas - Formerly incarcerated
Thomas, a mother of two young children, was incarcerated for three years for her involvement in financial crimes perpetrated by her husband. She describes the pain of leaving her children and their wrenching visits.
Edwin Raymond - Police officer
Raymond grew up in Brooklyn with a sense of idealism about being a police officer, and then found that “everything we were taught at the academy was left at the academy.” Instead, he was asked to issue tickets to meet quotas, and ultimately went public in his complaints against the force.
Erica Garner - Daughter of Eric Garner, who died after a police altercation
Erica Garner describes watching the video of her father’s arrest and death, and the ensuing demonstrations on his behalf. She offers a glimpse into what it is like to have your life irrevocably altered by the U.S. criminal-justice system, and describes how that experience turned her into an activist for social justice.
Tyrell Muhammad – Formerly incarcerated
Muhammad spent almost three decades incarcerated for a robbery that resulted in a homicide. The seven years he spent in solitary confinement still haunt him: “You are battling yourself for your sanity,” he says, “and it’s a hell of a battle.”
Yusef Salaam – One of the “Central Park Five”
One of the “Central Park Five,” Salaam was convicted, at the age of fifteen, of a violent rape and assault that left a female jogger fighting for her life. After serving seven years in prison, his sentence was finally vacated when the actual perpetrator (who was serving a life sentence for other crimes) confessed his guilt. Salaam describes his lost years, and how he has tried to rebuild his life.
Tommy Porr - Formerly incarcerated, now deceased
Porr spent thirty years in prison. He offers an account of his childhood, and goes on to reflect how he learned to become “human again.” Tommy passed away in 2016, one year after his release from prison.
For more information, and to arrange interviews with the director, executive producers, or witnesses, please contact:
The Marshall Project
Ruth Baldwin – (212) 803-5270
The New Yorker
Natalie Raabe – (212) 286-6591
Condé Nast Entertainment
Sunshine Sachs – (212) 691-2800
Andrew Stewart – (310) 623-4946
ABOUT THE MARSHALL PROJECT
The Marshall Project (www.themarshallproject.org) is a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal-justice system. We have interviewed President Obama, are the youngest news organization to ever win a Pulitzer, and since our launch in November 2014 we have partnered with close to one hundred media organizations, reaching an audience of millions. We are motivated by the belief that for too many years the media sensationalized crime coverage while paying too little attention to the expansion of the criminal justice system and the rise of mass incarceration. We aim to redirect public attention to a broad array of issues that include policing strategies, sentencing practices, alternatives to incarceration, the treatment of juvenile offenders, recidivism, and more. To achieve this our repertoire includes deep investigative projects, narratives and profiles that put a human face on criminal justice, explanatory and contextual pieces, along with guest commentary and voices from inside the system. In all of our work, we strive to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice.
ABOUT THE NEW YORKER
The New Yorker is a multi-platform media enterprise, spanning print, digital, audio, and video content, and live events. With more than a million subscribers to the weekly magazine and more than twenty million readers every month on newyorker.com, The New Yorker delivers unparalleled reporting and commentary on politics, foreign affairs, business, technology, popular culture, and the arts, along with humor, fiction, poetry, and cartoons. Reaching beyond print, the Web, digital editions, and apps, you can find The New Yorker’s writers, editors, and artists on the radio on “The New Yorker Radio Hour,” on TV via Amazon’s “The New Yorker Presents,” and at marquee events like the New Yorker Festival. The creativity, influence, and impact that have characterized The New Yorker since its founding, in 1925, are today amplified far beyond its pages.
ABOUT CONDÉ NAST ENTERTAINMENT (CNÉ)
Condé Nast Entertainment (CNÉ) is an award-winning next-generation studio and distribution network with entertainment content across film, television, premium digital video, social, and virtual reality. In just six years since its inception, CNÉ achieved profitability for its digital business ahead of schedule, reached TV-like scale for many of its digital videos, and has won Emmy and Critics’ Choice Awards, as well as garnered Academy Award and Peabody nominations. Culling from I.P. across Condé Nast’s iconic publishing brands, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, GQ, and Wired, CNÉ has produced series for Netflix, Investigation Discovery, Amazon, and more, and currently has feature films with Sony and Fox Searchlight. In addition, the Next Gen Studio produces and distributes over five thousand pieces of original digital video content a year delivering more than 6.7 billion video views year to date. CNÉ has an extensive digital distribution network of nearly fifty partners across four thousand Web sites and ranks No. 21 in unique viewers in comScore’s Top 100 Properties, ahead of BuzzFeed, ESPN, Vice, Vox, Scripps, Refinery29, the New York Times, Hearst, and Awesomeness.