This week on Full Frame: Reform behind bars

Full Frame

Prison reform

In the United States alone, over 2.4 million individuals are currently incarcerated. While the country only has 5 percent of the world’s overall population, it is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

Skyrocketing prison populations and an increasingly privatized, for-profit prison system that focuses more on the bottom-line than rehabilitation is a growing problem in the United States; one that should be in the headlines often, but is rarely part of public discourse. Politics, costs and policy aside, the lack of rehabilitation programs in American prisons and the stigma of incarceration have created daunting challenges for many former inmates who struggle to assimilate back into society after serving their sentences – leading to staggering recidivism rates in communities across the country. On this week’s episode of Full Frame, we meet change-makers whom are working to change the way society views the formerly incarcerated, and the way the formerly incarcerated view life.

Tune into Full Frame on CCTV America at 7:00 PM EDT on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Or watch the live stream of the program here at 

Tim Robbins: A gang of good

Tim Robbins

The first time Tim Robbins stepped foot in a prison in 1994, he was doing research. The Academy Award winning actor and director toured local facilities in Ohio to prepare for his leading role in the iconic Shawshank Redemption, and witnessed the failings of the modern American prison system. Men were entering prisons for non-violent crimes, and leaving them hardened criminals.
Over a decade later, Robbins found an impetus for reform. A member of Robbin’s theater group, The Actors’ Gang, suggested that the company create a curriculum that could be taught by the troupe in California prisons. What started eight years ago as a fledgling outreach program that struggled to register twenty participants has now become a dynamic and powerful rehabilitation program that often has a waitlist of hundreds.

The Actors’ Gang Prison ProjectThe success of The Actors’ Gang Prison Project, says Robbins, stems from the principles of commedia dell’arte, an age-old form of theater that is often characterized by masked character “types” and improvised performances. Participants paint masks on their face to give them the freedom to express themselves honestly. And in their improv classes, prisoners are taught that in order to create successful scenes, acceptance, as well as emotional generosity and flexibility are essential. Since any form of aggression is forbidden in Prison Project workshops, if one prisoner enters a scene with aggression or hostility, the inmate actors must learn to diffuse the situation with an emotion other than anger. It’s a skill that the participants learn to apply to situations beyond acting class, often using their new found emotional control on the prison yard and in their interactions with guards and administrators.

Robbins sees the Prison Project as more than just a way for inmates to learn about emotional expression. He also sees the potential impact that the program has on the future of affected inmates. While the state of California has almost a 60% recidivism rate, to date, the recidivism rate for participants of the Prison Project’s is zero. Robbins believes that by teaching empathy through creativity, expression and community, they are also teaching inmates how to live successful lives once they have regained their freedom. Tim Robbins and Mike Walter

This week on Full Frame, Mike Walter sits down with award-winning actor and director Tim Robbins to discuss the Prison Project, the political scene in the United States, and the power of empathy and emotional expression.

Follow the Prison Project on Twitter: @AGPrisonProject
Follow Tim Robbins on Twitter: @TimRobbins1

Judge Greg Mathis: A view for both sides of the bench

When Judge Greg Mathis appears on national television with a gavel in his hand and fully dressed in magistrate robes, viewers would never guess that he spent much of his youth in the courtroom as well, on the other side of the bench. Mathis grew up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Detroit, Michigan. His mother worked several jobs to provide for her family, and although she instilled strong spiritual morals in her four children and emphasized the importance of education, their surrounding environment made it difficult for them to stay out of trouble.

Judge Greg MathisMathis was 17 and incarcerated in Wayne County Jail when his mother visited and revealed that she had been diagnosed with cancer. Mathis cites this as a defining moment in his life. A judge offered him the opportunity for early probation so that he could spend time with his ailing mother, but only if he earned his GED – a high school equivalency diploma. Within 6 months, Mathis had earned his GED and enrolled as a freshman at Eastern Michigan University. His mother lost her battle with cancer, but his promise to her to live a different life, influences Mathis to this day. Judge Greg Mathis and Mike Walter

Today, Judge Mathis is not only one of American television’s most recognizable faces, with a nationally syndicated reality courtroom show that is still an audience favorite after sixteen seasons, but he and his wife are also leading community advocates. The Mathis Community Center in Detroit offers a variety of outreach and education programs for the city’s youth – giving them opportunities beyond a life of crime and incarceration. He is also a vocal proponent of giving individuals who have been incarcerated a fair second chance, just as he was once given the opportunity to prove his potential. His personal story continues to be an inspiration to many people.

This week, Mike Walter sits down with Judge Greg Mathis to discuss his life story and the importance of second chances.

Follow Judge Mathis on Twitter: @JudgeGregMathis

Isidore Recycling: Doing it right the second time around

Isidore Recycling’s founder and CEO, Kabira StokesIsidore Recycling not only saves the future of the planet, it saves the futures of formerly incarcerated individuals. The southern California-based company combines social enterprise with environmental responsibility to give both people and electronics a second chance in life.

The staff at the full service e-waste plant disassembles old electronics and preserves environmentally harmful materials to be manufactured into new goods. But many of Isidore’s employees are also working at a fresh start in their lives. Isidore gives recently released prisoners the opportunity and skills to earn a living, rather than be forced back into a life of crime because their prison record makes them a less than ideal candidate to other employers. Isidore Recycling

Isidore Recycling’s founder and CEO, Kabira Stokes, has two primary passions: environmental safety and social good. By keeping toxins out of landfills and former prisoners out of prison, Isidore is contributing to the greater good of society on many levels.

In this week’s Full Frame Close Up, we hear stories of Isidore employees whose lives have been changed by their new positions in the e-waste industry.

Follow Isidore Recycling on Twitter: @IsidoreRecycles
Follow Kabira Stokes on Twitter: @thekabira

Tune into Full Frame on CCTV America at 7:00 PM EDT on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Or watch the live stream of the program here at