The fashion brand VEDA teamed together with Women's Prison Association to make this artistic film with director Chelsy Mitchell so that they could spread WPA's message to a wide audience. WPA is an organisation that acts as a legal alternative to incarceration. To enrol in their program the defendant, district attorney, judge, and WPA all agree to terms that are designed individually to each case. This gives women the chance to start again, get a steady job and stay close to their family, instead of prison, and thereafter a felony conviction that will forever haunt them.
Some facts for context:
-70 million adults in the US have a criminal record, 10 million of which return from incarceration to their communities and, presumably, the workforce each year.
-Formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27%, which is higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.
-While employers express an openness to hire people with criminal records, evidence shows that having a record cuts employer callback rates in half.
The film became focused on not only awareness of the USAs clear statistics on the life effect criminal justice has on ex prisoners, but raising the solution of other options, and being open minded. This call for open mindedness became the perfect scope for an artistic film that represents these women's troubles in a different way. Mitchell comments, "The WPA does not often get the opportunity to see themselves represented in an artistic way so the task of making visuals to match what they teach and advocate for was really unique and exciting. I worked along side a crew I really trust, and they helped me approach the topic with both creativity and sensitivity."
That sensitivity and value in showcasing true experiences was another element in building the film's concept. VEDA, WPA and Mitchell worked together to create an honest and inclusive environment for the film whereby four of WPA's clients shared their own personal justice involved testimonies, which became building blocks for the film's tone and script, and Linda Shell - a graduate of WPA provided the film's voice-over.
VEDA's owner Lyndsey Butler comments, "the main reason I wanted to involve the WPA in this "fashion" film was to be able to raise awareness for their organization and the continued need for criminal justice reform. It tends to be a taboo subject and it can make fundraising difficult, but one of the things I love about the fashion industry is that it is open minded. I think if we keep talking about criminal justice reform and telling the stories of these women (and the millions of others) the message will extend beyond our circle and help destigmatize the topic making real reform possible."
This film is about linking two unlikely worlds and making it conceivable through the bond between women, with the message that women in the justice system can and should have the opportunities other women have. "Visually and structurally I was inspired by a couple specific 1980's fashion films and commercials that centered around female leadership in the workplace. These often featured voice-over from a female character speaking frankly and openly about her feelings, namely her strengths and insecurities on and off the job."