Review:  The Poetic Justice Project, a film by Matthew J. Evans

by Ruth Cherry, PhD

I’m one of the lucky ones--a middle class person. I had a stable home, a crime-free neighborhood, and schools that taught me well. Always there was someone who believed in me. I knew it, and I believed in myself. I never questioned my right to a place in society.

Matthew J. Evans’ film, The Poetic Justice Project, chronicles the lives of the less fortunate, the “throw away people.” Those highlighted in this film live in families and neighborhoods where criminal activity is a way of life. Their communities are segregated, poor, and without opportunity. No one believes in the young people here.  In fact, it is expected that they will go to prison.

And they do.

In prison they find the same rigid societal blocks that they experienced in their neighborhoods. Racism is rigidly enforced. Abuse is abundant and freely administered. Opportunities for education are limited. Upon release, many return to their criminal practices. They haven’t learned to believe in themselves.

Deborah Tobola, an artist/facilitator in the Arts in Corrections Program, has taught incarcerated men to heal themselves through the arts in her program, The Poetic Justice Project. A brilliant playwright, she has penned several insightful and compassionate plays about redemption in the prison system. By seeing the depth of humanity in her inmate/students, she has led them to see themselves and to value themselves.

The Poetic Justice Project focuses on the value of participating in the arts for the rehabilitation for the inmates. In Off the Hook, Ms. Tobola’s latest play, the actors portray themselves for the education of the audience and for their own healing. This play both chronicles the actors’ recovery and sustains it. We view “real life” happening.

Matthew J. Evans is a gifted film maker with an ability to identify and illuminate the human struggle.  This powerful documentary poignantly shows us the challenges facing humans who have not been given a solid foundation in childhood and, yet, as adults have committed to live with meaning and purpose. This film inspires each of us to be a better person.


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