The fervor in the United States over the "War on Drugs" and the development of punitive "crime reduction" strategies in the 1980s and 1990s created mandatory minimum sentencing laws that exploded prison populations across the country, at the city, state, and federal level. In California, the "Three Strikes" law of 1994 created mandatory sentences for any third felony conviction, leading to people serving 25 years to life for stealing a slice of pizza or for any number of other non-violent offenses. Experiences of incarceration, re-entry into society, and the obstacles facing those who have served time are critical stories that must be documented, in the country that leads the world in imprisoning its population.
In 2014, Storycenter partnered with the Sarah Webster Fabio Center in Northern California, to capture the stories of formerly incarcerated women and men who had faced long sentences, but who had been positively assisted by the various reforms of the state's Three Strike statutes. The I'll Tell My Story project led the participants through a series of local workshops: in writing, with Opal Adisa Palmer; in photography, with Kathy Sloane; and in digital storytelling, with members of our staff. Five digital stories were created, over a month long period.
The Fabio Center used the stories to call attention to a November 2014 ballot initiative, Proposition 47, which proposed further reforms of mandatory sentencing in California. At a screening at Oakland's New Parkway theater in October, the storytellers and their films were shared, and information about the Yes on Proposition 47 campaign was distributed. Supporters of social justice across California and the U.S. were galvanized when the Proposition won, by a large margin.