Muslim Inmate Project: Chicago Update
Posted In: chicago, documentary, IOI, Muslims, Prison
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I just completed 5 days of shooting in the notorious South side of Chicago for my current film on Muslims in the US prison system. Running camera for our 5 day shoot was Dillon Schneider of Reel Big Films and Matthew Rivera who did a great job at working on their feet. The main focus of my filming was around a transitional house (a house where ex-offenders live after prison but before completely re-entering society) and a job training program for Muslim ex-offenders. The transitional house coined “Project Restore” was initiated by a Muslim led community organization called the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN). Project Restore is an effort to quell the high recidivism rate of mostly black males in Chicago whose daily struggles tempt them right back into prison. The program starts with a focus on faith and self discipline for those who qualify for the program while they are finishing their sentences.
I had the honor to spend time with Rafi Peterson, one of the project’s founders who currently lives in the small three bedroom house. The Project Restore house offers an environment that adheres to an Islamic lifestyle complete with a designated prayer room and a no tolerance policy for alcohol, drugs, profanity, and sexual promiscuity. Project Restore residents are encouraged to serve the community of the South side and to become leaders in disarming the areas various gangs through an organization called Cease Fire. The Project Restore house’s basement has become a space where the residents have organized local gang interventions to stop the violence between what they call the neighborhoods’ “warring tribes.”
Each resident is given a full time job working for “Project Green Re-entry” which trains those in the program in green home construction and renovation. From sustainable and recycled building materials, to energy efficient appliances and plumbing, the crew of Project Green Re-entry are learning the newest construction practices for job skills that are in high demand. Currently the project is busy in renovating a home that will serve as a second home for more Project Restore residents, which will be a living space for 6.
The current residents of the Project Restore house, Hassan and Taqi, will serve as the new administrators of the second house. Everyone I met affiliated with the program were truly inspiring people and in my opinion are some of the greatest examples of Muslims in America. Their sincere desire to help others like them and those in their community is nothing short of amazing. After living their lives behind bars they are eager to return to the same dangerous neighborhoods from which they came in order to dismantle the structures and the pressures that lead them to crime.
I am not exaggerating when I say I have never seen so many funeral homes in the same 5 mile radius in my life. We were told that the area sees a multitude of violent crimes everyday and we witnessed the result of funerals almost on every block. This year alone we were told that over 10 Chicago police officers have been killed and in some cases directly targeted by the violence in the area.
As a part of the project, I am collecting video messages from Muslim ex-offenders that I meet on the outside and I hope to share these messages with those I am in contact with on the inside, building a support system between the two.
The community of Muslim ex-offenders we spoke to at projects Restore and Green Re-entry are people I will never forget and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to document their unique story for my current project.