A group of formerly incarcerated university students is launching a social media campaign designed to combat society’s negative perceptions of ex-prisoners.
The University of California at Davis students call their campaign “We Are All Students” (WAAS). The aim is to help others to respect former inmates for who they are as people.
“We are producing a year-long social media campaign that conveys the social situations and experiences of people who attend higher education in the shadow of incarceration,” Zach Psick told the San Quentin News. Psick is formerly incarcerated and is the project’s student campaign director.
The digital campaign will consist of between 100 and 150 posts on social media platforms such as Instagram. Each post will portray a student whose life was impacted by incarceration or the legal system. The digital posts will include high-resolution photographs of about a dozen people.
“The photos will illuminate their personalities and humanity by conveying their everyday experiences as students,” Psick said. “Protecting their identities will de-individualize their experiences and allow them to express themselves without jeopardizing their pursuit of better lives.”
Psick said he was convicted of a crime 12 years ago, but the stigma around his incarceration remains.
“I have been surprised by the emergence of groups representing formerly incarcerated scholars at all levels of academia,” said Psick. “I thought people like me were rarer.”
Psick says that his probation officer wanted him to go to prison, not college. “He told me that repeatedly,” Psick said. “It was because a risk assessment predicted I would reoffend. Now I’m in my fifth year of graduate school.”
His accomplishments include a master’s degree in sociology, a B.A. in Communication Studies, and a certificate in Addiction Studies/Public Health. He has published reports on aging in prison and aging reentry populations in the International Journal of Prisoner Health and the American Society of Criminology, Philadelphia.
“I had what they called a learning disorder,” Psick said. “My probation officer was surprised by my academic success. Students, professors, and administrators are often surprised, too.”
These are the types of stories the digital campaign aims to highlight. The digital media content will be available free of charge.
“WAAS aims to support coalition – building between groups representing the interests of currently and formerly incarcerated people like those in Beyond The Stats—a collective of formerly incarcerated students enrolled at U.C. Davis—and the San Quentin News by producing and spreading information,” Psick added.
The WAAS campaign is also developing brochures, fliers and posters to distribute at probation and parole offices and community colleges. The printed material will contain information that people with felony charges need to know about college.
Psick hopes that this information will help future classes of formerly incarcerated college freshmen.