By Ankita Joshi
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The COVID-19 pandemic has especially impacted those who are incarcerated locally, creating an isolating experience mixed with fear and anxiety about the next steps within the county jail system.
On May 25, 2021, the Adachi Project, partnered with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Even/Odd, and Compound, released From Inside, a short film featuring raw, candid interviews between public defenders and their clients in the San Francisco County Jail, which explores those isolating experiences many of those who are incarcerated face.
The film notes that there is additional pressure created by the pandemic that stacks onto the already stressful experience of going through the criminal justice system—as a result, defendants are opting to take plea deals to stay out of jail.
“It is impossible to explain—to anyone—the psychological impact of being in county jail, waiting months for a backed-up criminal legal system to get to your case, not knowing when or if you’ll go to trial, or go home, and making it more likely that you’ll plead guilty just to get out of jail rather than fight your case,” says Hadi Razzaq, Managing Attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and a core member of the Adachi Project.
From Inside was inspired by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office concern for the “acute danger the COVID-19 pandemic posed for people in crowded, congregate settings—especially jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities.”
The Adachi Project began documenting the Public Defender’s Office’s work with city agencies to decrease jail populations, and were able to include many clients’ perspectives on the physical risks they faced due to the pandemic.
The physical risks went further than just symptoms of COVID-19, and explored “the compounding mental effect of being further ‘caged’ and isolated by COVID-protocols, including indefinite incarceration due to court delays.”
From Inside incorporates a lot of different design, animation, and sound elements to “convey a more accurate feeling of the lived reality of being incarcerated during the pandemic,” said Mohammad Gorjestani, Founding Partner of the Adachi Project and Founder and Creative Director of Even/Odd.
Even though there have been many efforts to reduce the jail population, as of May 2021, many of the nation’s jails remain extremely overcrowded. This includes San Francisco County which remains 20 percent above standards recommended by public health experts.
The Public Defender’s Office in San Francisco is in support of more humane policies that “recognize the radical effect incarceration can have on individuals, especially in creating or exacerbating mental health issues,” and has been working with the County to try to reduce the jail population.
“From Inside puts a spotlight on the lasting psychological impact on individuals in jail,” says Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender.
He adds, “The pandemic has forced us to ask crucial questions about why we have so many people in jail, and the human impact on them, their families, and communities. And, on this one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we must ask ourselves the question—what is the value our criminal legal system puts on human life?”
From Inside is the third installation DEFENDER-Vol. 00—the Adachi Project’s inaugural work that explores the vivid mindscape of the unsettling reality faced by people locked inside during the pandemic.
The goal of this project is to “reveal how our criminal legal system has evolved to inherently dehumanize the very society it seeks to represent,” states Santhosh Daniel, Founding Partner of the Adachi Project.
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