A story from the Philadelphia Inquirer about a former criminal who partnered with a federal prosecutor to make a film about reentering prisoners; understanding that for significant internal change, the penitential criminal needs to be approached and mentored by a reformed criminal.
“The first time El Sawyer found himself on the 12th floor of One Independence Mall, seated across a shiny conference table from Zane David Memeger, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, his instincts got the better of him.
“I was terrified,” Sawyer said. Just seven years out of Graterford Prison, where he had learned filmmaking, Sawyer, 34, was taking meetings with the region’s top prosecutor.
“I’m very familiar with the reputation of the federal system,” Sawyer said. “I started looking at the glass: Is it double-paned? How many floors up?”
“Resisting the impulse to flee, Sawyer eventually got the chance to do what the filmmaker in him was born to do: pitch a movie, a documentary with codirector Jon Kaufman about inmates reentering society.
“Memeger, more familiar with strategizing prosecutions of organized criminals, now was in the role of studio head. He did what they do: green-lighted the project, backing it with $30,000 in department funds.
“And so the odd partnership was born in December 2011. Tuesday night, the hour-long documentary Pull of Gravity will be screened at the ConstitutionCenter before 200 invited guests. The audience will include judges, city officials, and the subjects in the film, including Kev Stanard, 19, of North Philadelphia, who was filmed just a day after returning home from serving three years on a drug charge. He was given a “plus four” to the premiere: four invited guests.
“Memeger says the U.S. Attorney’s Office is not trying to go Hollywood. Rather, the alliance has roots in a desire to bring new ideas and deepen the understanding of a complicated and intractable problem on both ends of the criminal justice system.
“People like myself can talk to young people, say ‘Don’t commit crime,’ but at the end of the day we’re viewed as men in suits, women in suits, ‘You don’t understand me,’ ” Memeger said. “We have to find people the young audience can identify with.”