WESTFIELD, NJ — Students at Westfield High School viewed the film “Broken on All Sides” last week and spoke with its director to gain a look inside America’s prison system. Almost the entire population of juniors attended the in-school“field trip.”
The documentary explores the reality of prisons in the United States. WHS Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson explained said that opportunities like this help each student “grow as a human being.”
“We still live in a very segregated society today,” Director Matthew Pillischer told the students. “If we lift up the bottom, we will all benefit.”
Pillischer and Five Mualimm-ak, a council member of Incarcerated Nation, attended the viewing to answer questions and discuss the issues “Broken on All Sides” brings up in more depth. Students learned about experiences of unfair jailings, the number of people incarcerated in the US compared with the rest of the world and statistics such as 1 in 100 Americans are behind bars while 1 in 15 black men are behind bars.
“The majority of the world has been changed by kids your age,” Mualimm-ak said. “We have to make the change.”
With his assurance that the students of Westfield High School play a part in the future of race relations and the problems prisons have today, the documentary began.
Many students were able to gain awareness about the United States prison system that was not given in history class alone.
“The documentary was a really eye-opening experience for me,” WHS junior Fiona Gillespie said. “I never realized how much racial profiling existed in the criminal justice system. I was also shocked to learn that some people who can't pay bail have to wait in jail for months until they can even see a judge. It really taught me a lot about the state of racial relations in America and how far we still have to go to achieve racial equality.”
After the documentary, students had a question and answer session with Mualimm-ak and Pillischer, and learned several statistics that would leave them more aware of the nation’s situation. They discussed how the United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world, that children as young as 9 can be arrested and how, to change things, there would have to be as large of a change as another civil rights movement. Students left encouraged to stand up and make a change.
Nadia Matin is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.