Felons admit the truths behind their convictions before the road to redemption in the latest production by the digital media arts department at Southwestern Assemblies of God University.
Forgiven Felons is a prison program that focuses on the medical, spiritual and mental rehabilitation before re-entering society after living behind bars. The SAGU film crew are featuring the program in an upcoming documentary.
Assistant Professor Rob Price of the communication arts division at SAGU expressed the work with cinematic filming and production on actual film sets replicates a real-world experience for the students.
“These on-the-job elements are so important. And, the students will be able to acquire the much-needed type of skills outside of the classroom by being a part of this great endeavor," Price elaborated.
The on-camera host and narrator for the series is none other than Steve Borden, better known as the wrestler and Waxahachie resident, “Sting." The inclusion of this internationally recognized sports figure adds to the potential of unprecedented exposure and opportunities for distribution for the SAGU cinema team, Price stated.
Forgiven Felons, also known as “FF,” is a unique prison program founded by a 47-year-old former felon, Jay Dan Gumm.
Gumm is hopeful the documentary will expose how places like Forgiven Felons is combatting the troubling issue of recidivism for felons, transitioning back into society.
Founded in January 2007, this assistive organization aims to help transition formerly incarcerated people into becoming productive citizens of society. The foundation provides a successful bridge for former inmates, as they encourage and mentor men who are seeking to restore their broken lives back to wholeness through spiritual guidance, transitional housing, job search assistance and other practical steps.
Gumm often goes back into the Texas prison units to speak to men and women about their spiritual condition and how to prepare for life after release.
Even though the program does not currently provide housing for former female inmates, Gumm aspires to expand available housing for them in the future, as their organization develops over time.
“We do assist women with clothing, hygiene, food, and mentoring if they want it. But housing is only for men,” Gumm relayed.
Gumm is a former Texas prison inmate himself, serving three years of his five-year sentence for his fourth and fifth DWIs.
“I remember very vividly in court the judge saying he didn’t see a very bright future for me,” Gumm recalled.
Gum was released April 18, 2006.
A PRODUCER'S PERSPECTIVE
Each of the chosen featured subjects will be interviewed in a formal setting. They will detail their background testimony of family issues, adversity, and factors that led them to serve time behind bars. These discussions will be the foundation for setting up the transition to and from the dramatic reenactments.
Students are blending sound bytes over the beginning and end of each narrative scenes to provide a sense of seamlessness over the entire documentary.
Part of the pre-production crew is SAGU’s own Payton Bernhardt.
“I have written most of the reenactment scenes for the documentary, which was an amazing experience because I got to meet each of the guys we are featuring and really get to know them,” Bernhardt elaborated. “My main goal in this capacity is to make sure everything is lined up for our director to take over during production. If I successfully do my job well, things will run smoothly in post-production as well.”
Bernhardt explained how the darkness she heard from the inmates is something she has witnessed with loved ones in her life.
“I have watched families torn apart and the sad process of children becoming orphans. And sadly, I have never seen actual rehabilitation be successful before,” she detailed.
But, the confessions from the Forgiven Felons exhibited that rehabilitation could be possible. Bernhardt claimed the interviewed subjects are living proof of survival.
“This project is my chance to be a part of their testimony. This is my chance to help create something that will reach over the boundaries of darkness and touch the lives of people entrapped there,” Bernhardt affirmed. “Our entire Digital Media Arts Department has so much passion and hope wrapped up in this project. Our desire is to make this finished product a cornerstone for SAGU and to assist our university in its future film endeavors.”
These interviews will solicit sound bytes from both their past and present situations and challenges as they adjust to life outside of prison. These conversations will be more casual in nature and will be conducted by the host.
Interviews will be captured at strategic locations across the DFW area where prior experiences both painful and positive actually happened in the subjects’ lives. Otherwise, interviews would unfold via standard “walk-n-talks,” “ride-alongs” or “living room community chats” at the FF home.
The majority of the interviews will be conducted during the 2018 spring semester. Follow up interviews may be acquired if necessary from September through October 2018.
The documentary will attempt to showcase between two to three flashback scenes drawn from the pre-incarceration time frame of each Forgiven Felon. Only on a rare occasion may a reenactment be based on a story after prison release. These will be shot exclusively during May 2018.
Most of the visuals in the documentary will likely be drawn from the large amount of raw footage acquired from regular life at the FF home during the weekdays, Sunday morning Bible studies, on the job, meeting with family and friends, parole officer meetings, prison ministry visits and more.
The agenda of storytelling will be very Gospel-centric and freely portray the power of God to change lives.
To achieve this type of product, the documentary will likely explore several uncomfortable topics such as drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. The students made it a priority to not glorify sinful behavior but knew it was critical for the viewer to understand the depths of darkness and evil that’s prevalent in the heart of humanity.
The communication of these sensitive topics will be carefully crafted and vetted by Price, who is also the executive producer. He shared it is possible that some re-enactments of these sinful behaviors may not be suitable for young children.
The finished product is scheduled to be released at the Waxahachie Show Biz Theatre in the beginning months of 2019.
The only online presence SAGU has now is a trailer, which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIHodxXW-m4. There is also a “GoFundMe” page, https://www.gofundme.com/sagu-cinema-2018forgiven-felons, where the department is attempting to raise additional money to pay for the extra cameras for the project. Price would be happy to answer questions about this documentary program.