IN A WHOLE NEW WAY 2018-2023
Encouraged by the success of Project Lives, New York City asked SFO to deliver its programming to New Yorkers on probation, another marginalized population. Ever since the 1972-92 crime wave, the media had portrayed America's dominant criminal justice sanction as a slap on the wrist if not a joke—even as the wave turned the originally rehabilitative practice punitive. The combined effect was to turn probation into a staging ground for incarceration rather than an alternative.
Many jurisdictions around the country have since walked back the practice to its original purpose, arguably nowhere more than New York City. But the continuing mocking media treatment continues to undermine progress elsewhere, preventing probation from being offered more widely in place of locking people up.
To break this dynamic, Seeing for Ourselves embedded itself in the agency operating the probation function of New York City from 2018 to 2021, equipping and training hundreds of those serving a term and their neighbors to document their lives photographically. The best images were combined with a backstory about probation that amplified their power and the resultant manuscript was published by Prospecta Press in 2023. The work has to date received glowing reviews.
But with the pandemic shutting down the publishing industry in 2020, SFO had decided to produce a documentary film in the meantime. Released in 2021, In a Whole New Way went on to win over sixty awards around the world over the next two years, was aired by in PBS in 2023, and was screened that same year for ACLU-Delaware and the Council of State Governments Justice Center. In an unprecedented event in the annals of American criminal justice, the documentary was showcased at a plenary session of the annual meeting of the American Probation and Parole Association in 2023.
To watch the film, visit the inawholenewway.com website
While promoting the artistry of the program participants, the new imagery of probation resulting from the book and film will hopefully lead to a nationally reformed practice being more widely viewed as an effective alternative to mass incarceration.