I continue to be in awe of the changes that are happening across the country as our consciousness is finally raised around the value of black and brown lives. It is helping me to do my work better as municipalities see the need to address the crisis caused by our prison industrial complex and are open to new innovative alternatives like the latest venture I have started and wanted to share with you.
As some of you may know studies show that increased academic achievement is one of the most reliable predictors of reducing recidivism that occurs in our system at alarmingly high rates. In order to address this issue my project partner the 5 Keys Charter School has opened more than 13 sites around the Bay Area and Los Angeles both inside and outside of jails to help thousands of students to get high school diplomas, GED’s, jobs, and life skills training. Check out this trailer of “The Corridor” , a film in the works that profiles their amazing program.
Despite their success, the fixed location model necessitates hundreds of hours of student travel time to reach school locations. Time spent and the cost of travel present a marked burden for people who are living on a very low income. Additionally, many of the young adult students are single parents with limited options for childcare. Safety issues are another concern, as many students literally cannot cross certain streets to attend classes out of the real fear that they have entered into gang territory. Finally, students who begin courses at one location while incarcerated are often released to neighborhoods with no nearby classes.
Therefore late last year I was approached by the founders, Sunny Schwartz and Steve Good, to help them adaptively re-use 3 municipal buses to be a school on wheels and mobile safe house for women and vulnerable inmates who are released during the night.
At the time we had no funding but a good friend of mine, Prescott Reavis, told me about an amazing new fellowship called the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist and I also thought it was a very good fit. After several rounds of submissions and an interview I was awarded this fellowship that will fund us to not only develop these buses but to engage the community and build a robust infrastructure of mobile resources such as medical buses, fresh good trucks and catering offers to create what I am calling the Pop up Resource Village.
These added wrap around resources will draw people to the site and support communities at the locus of need. Our work will also look at how this model can be an engine for urban renewal that will eventually make itself obsolete. The plan is not to just show up once a week but to collaborate with city agencies including the Department of Public Works to create a beautiful and functional environment for the resource center to plug-in and support the community even when the buses are not there. Our hope is that this strategy will turn blighted public places into welcoming spaces that encourage permanent development.
Just last week we kicked off the process starting with engaging funders, students, teacher and community leaders around how to develop this infrastructure. It was a huge success and a significant amount of knowledge was gained. As we begin design, we will work closely with our second project partner Asian Neighborhood Design who will work with their Employment Training Center composed primarily of 5 Keys students to construct the fit out.
There are many new things happening as I start to move our work in a direction that scales these initiatives up to address city wide infrastructure. In the meantime we need these new prototypes and I hope you will follow the progress of this one with me over the next two years as we continue to explore the role that design can play in ending mass incarceration.