Scott Budnick is very well known in Hollywood circles for producing the Hangover series and working on movies with director Todd Phillips. The films they make tend to be humorous and raunchy comedies but besides making big budget Hollywood movies Scott has another passion which drives him. Helping offenders who are locked up in our massive prison industrial complex. He founded the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) in 2013 to help advocate for fair and just policies in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. ARC also works to provide services, support and opportunities to those currently within the system and those coming home from incarceration.
Based in California, Scott Budnick and ARC have had a tremendous impact working with other grassroots organizations to help change policies and laws that have drastically changed the lives of thousands of incarcerated people across the state. By being proactive, making a difference and serving as a bridge to transformation, purpose and redemption ARC is leading the charge as prison reform takes center stage. We sat down with Scott Budnick to find out how he got into helping prisoners, why he started ARC and what prison reform means to him.
When and why did you first get interested in helping prisoners?
I came out to LA to work with Todd Phillips the director, I actually worked with him on his first movie Road Trip. And four years after getting to LA I was pretty much just in Hollywood and felt a little bit stuck and trapped in a bubble and a friend of mine that I knew from doing the movie Old School, Matthew Mizzen invited me down to juvenile hall to be a guest speaker in his creative writing class. I did that and I went down to FIlmore juvenile hall and I sat with a bunch of kids who were 15 and 16 years old and they were facing life in prison. Sitting next to me was a fifteen year old who got 300 years in prison for standing next to a guy that shot a gun. It was the most heartbreaking stories of injustice and about throwing poor kids away for ever. That day which was in 2004 I started teaching that creative writing class and I've been involved ever since.
Teaching the creative writing class kind of snowballed into working with these kids when they go into prison and working with the prisons and that snowballed into starting college programs in the prison system and today we have 8000 inmates in the California system as full time college students. I started to understand the politics of this and how they can get moved. We had a lot of young people getting out of prison and we were helping to get them through college programs. They were doing really well and we started to bring them to Sacramento to tell their stories about how education changed the way they thought and saved their lives and how they're now university students and graduate students and I saw that start to move the needle politically. Their stories and their testimonies.
Why did you start ARC?
I ended up starting ARC to kind of get their stories out wider. To get their stories out wider to both society and to our political leaders. So half of what we do in ARC is help people the day they come home whether its helping them find jobs, get enrolled in school, find a therapist. We have 230 ARC members who were formally incarcerated so we are a peer support group for the formerly incarcerated and that support system is just awesome. So the day you get out of prison you are welcomed by a group of people that are all positive and are leading you in the right direction and whatever services you need we connect you too. And the other half of what we do is we change the law and we change policies and help reduce mass incarceration and we do that through the testimony of our members. We passed five laws in the state of California in the last three years. Its all owed to the testimony and the life stories and the passion of our members who advocate on behalf of the men and women still left inside.
What have you learned dealing with prisoners and going into prisons?
When I first walked into prisons I didn't quite understand how deep the cultural issues go as to how difficult it is to bring about change. both from the politics within the inmate population and even more so the politic within the staff. Obviously having prison staff and correctional officers very much resenting college programs and believing that inmates aren't deserving of this and not really understanding how its like that if you want to get anything accomplished in a prison you have to get the buy in at every level from the warden on down to the correctional officer or how anyone person can screw up what you are trying to do.
The politics of learning how to navigate prison has been a huge learning experience. The inmate politics and gang politics and navigating that as well has been a huge learning experience. But I've also learned that yeah theres a lot of darkness and a lot of negativity in prison but theres always inmates that bring light and light attracts light as darkness attracts darkness.
What do you think helps prisoners the most when they are released?
I have seen that when we can get people into supportive housing where they are surrounded by like minded peers who are on a positive path and then they are connected to community colleges and they are connected to employment and they have a stable place to live and thrive and grow with stable adults and mentors around them I think that is the real game changer.
What do you think of President Obama visiting a federal prison?
I have been doing some work with the president trying to highlight this issue i have been using for two years to get the president to visit a prison so when i saw him visit with vice that was kind of like a dream come true. I knew a president had never done that before and i knew that he was someone whose heart was into that issue.
To learn more visit- http://www.antirecidivism.org/