NYU Silver Hosts Film Screening and Symposium Related to the Criminal Justice System

The NYU Silver School of Social Work hosted a film series the week of March 29, dedicated to raising awareness on issues related to dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, and culture for incarcerated populations. The film series will culminate with a symposium on Saturday, April 13, examining the criminal justice system.

The events are co-sponsored by NYU Silver’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, NYU Center for Multicultural Education and Programs, Students of Color Collective, Social Workers on Public Policy, Pride in Practice, Student Collective for Global Social Work, and Unity through Multicultural Education, and supported by the NYU Silver Social Justice and Diversity Grant.

On April 1, NYU Silver students watched a moving portrayal of the impact that education and the human dignity of learning can have on men in the criminal justice system in the documentary Sing Sing University. The Silver School’s Parlor was packed with students for this screening.

Sing Sing University chronicles the life stories of men who have been empowered through a college education provided by Hudson Link, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing higher education into prisons, as well as life skills and re-entry supports to incarcerated men and women. The documentary focuses on Sing Sing Maximum Security Prison and the men who participated in Hudson Link’s program received bachelor’s degrees in behavioral science. They attend the same program held in Mercy College, except set behind prison bars.

Hudson Link was founded in 1998 when state and federal funding for college education in prisons was cut. It relies on private donations to provide programs to inmates in conjunction with partners such as Mercy College, Nyack College, SUNY Sullivan Community College, and Vassar College.  

A main character of the film is Sean Pica, executive director of Hudson Link. He was incarcerated for killing the man who raped his girlfriend and served 16 years in prison. Hudson Link helped him acquire a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Nyack College during his incarceration at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. “We operate one of the only college degree granting programs in the entire department of corrections in the state,” he shares in the film.

Another man highlighted in the film, Chris Peyton, who is currently serving a life sentence, states movingly, “Education was magnificent. It changed my life.” Over 250 men have graduated from the program. Of the men who have been released prison, the recidivism rate stands at zero percent. The film includes personal narratives told by the many students who feel that Hudson Link gave them hope and taught them about what led them in prison. Throughout the film, many Silver Students cried silently.

The end of the film was met with much applause from students, and was followed by a speech from Danny Matos, board member and alumni coordinator at Hudson Link, who spoke about the importance of an education during his incarceration. He was sent to prison for drug deal gone wrong. Education helped him look back on his mistakes to understand how his actions hurt his victim’s family. “Do you want the angry 16 year old back then, or the me now?” he asked. Although there are critics that state that those in prison do not deserve a college education, Matos feels otherwise. He believes it is about human dignity.

Matos encourages NYU students to consider volunteering with Hudson Link by tutoring, or even consider having their field placements through the organization.

Students interested in learning more about the criminal justice system can attend a full-day symposium on Saturday, April 13, on “Cross Cultural Social Work in the Criminal Justice System.” Panel discussions will include speakers from several organizations, including the New York State Prison Justice Network and the Vera Institute.

Learn more and RSVP for the symposium at crossculturalsocialwork.wordpress.com.