Group Effort Creates “A New Freedom”
A Unikron production : By the end of 2016, almost 800,000 visitors to the website have clicked on the livestream version. It’s pretty incredible.
Clement C. arrived at the General Service Office and started working on the Corrections desk in January 2014. Not long after, he was handed one of his most challenging assignment producing an entirely new Corrections video to take the place of the 25-year-old video “It Sure Beats Sitting in a Cell.” A 2014 General Service Conference Advisory Action had requested the new film, the making of which became a two-year long Twelfth Step saga involving A.A.s from all over the U.S. and Canada.
Well-suited for the task at hand, Clement’s last job before arriving at G.S.O. was as a producer, director and manager for the St. Louis Public Schools Television Station. Clement did a little of everything there—director, cameraman, editor, producer — gaining broad and valuable experience. After a series of internal meetings and a review of prior A.A. video projects, professional bids were solicited from various film production companies, finally settling on Unikron, a Toronto-based company that had filmed the anonymity-protected delayed telecast of the flag ceremonies from the last three International Conventions and had produced the video “A.A. in Correctional Facilities.” “We had a level of trust in Unikron because of their previous experience with A.A.,” Clement says.
Unikron’s initial idea was a scripted video, with actors portraying alcoholics, but “we didn’t feel scripted would work,” says Clement. “This was a documentary and we needed authentic sharing from sober alcoholics in prison—what comes from the heart goes to the heart.” So, Clement began working closely with Chris C., a freelance producer who often works with Unikron. “Instead of a script,” Clement says, “Chris and I decided on a series of questions that we would pose to inmates and ex-in-mates.” The Conference wanted a video that touched on the Steps and Traditions, the Legacies, A.A. literature, the Corrections Correspondence Service, etc., and so the questions were carefully crafted to elicit responses on these topics. How did they find the courage to put down that last drink? Had the inmate had a spiritual awakening? Attended meetings in prison? Begun working the Steps?”
“It was a long list of questions,” Chris says. “But finally we managed to whittle it down to a manageable size.” Next, the questions were circulated to G.S.O. staffers and members of the trustees’ Corrections Committee for input. After that, permission had to be obtained from a selected group of prisons to record audio interviews, then film the documentary for AA , which would be entitled “A New Freedom.” This was no easy task. “Our first attempts to gain entry into facilities happened in the summer of 2015, just around the time of a notorious escape of two prisoners from a prison in upstate New York,” Chris says. “It made things a lot more difficult.”
Eventually, the G.S.O. team got permission to enter prisons in Missouri, New York, North Carolina, and western Ontario, as well as the Los Angeles County Jail. This could not
have been accomplished without the help of the Corrections committees in the areas where the prisons were located, Clement says. “We got all kinds of assistance from the A.A. people who go into the prisons, and who have relationships with prison administration. They were the backbone of the entire project, they made the job easy. In Missouri, Harold L., former Corrections chair and then-current Corrections chair, John S., were instrumental. This is just to name two. When I wrote letters, people in the prisons basically opened the door for us. And that was because of the reputation of the local A.A. Corrections committees, in every location.”
Audio interviews of inmates and former inmates were done first — boiled down and edited — with particularly moving or important quotes noted on index cards, laid out painstakingly on Chris’ dining room table; there were so many he had to put in the table’s extender. This process lasted four weeks, but when it was over, it only took an afternoon to put the index cards in order as the shape of the video became apparent: An introduction, followed by a section each on “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”
Filming of “A New Freedom” then began and a very rough cut of the video was assembled. Clement visited Toronto to work with Unikron’s editors. “The people at Unikron were great,” Clement says, “especially given our relatively low budget. They worked closely with me and were always willing to make revisions.” After further editing, a rough cut was shown to the trustees’ Corrections Committee at the Fall 2015 General Service Board meeting. After further edits were made, the trustees’ Corrections Committee reviewed a final edit, as did G.S.O. staffers, who, Clement says, “were very supportive.”
By this point, Jeff W. had arrived at G.S.O. to take over the Corrections assignment, although Clement would continue to follow the film project through to its completion. Jeff has a background as an advertising creative director and was impressed with what he saw. “Even in its rough- er form, it was beautifully done,” says Jeff.
The final cut of “A New Freedom,” just over 30 minutes long, was screened at the 2016 General Service Conference. “Having to present something like this to the Conference, I had my concerns,” Clement said. “But it was quite well-received.”
“A New Freedom,” like an A.A. meeting, is filled with tragedy, love, and humor. A woman talks about driving drunk, crashing her car, and killing her young daughter’s friend. A Native American girl starts drinking at the age of 12, and is the youngest person in her detox — “my home away from home,” she calls it. Another man writes an Available on DVD, this 30-minute video features sharing from incarcerated members.
amends letter to the father he murdered. Released after 21 years in prison, he is astonished to be invited into the home of an A.A. he has just met.
And then there’s the car salesman who looks idly out the window during a boring meeting one day, yearning for a drink. “Don’t get into any trouble today,” he sternly warns himself. Three hours later, drunk, he robs a bank with a handwritten note. Why rob the bank? “If I rob this bank,” he thinks to himself, “then I’ll have enough courage to jump off that bridge.”
Only a fellow A.A. could find that story funny and yet completely relate to the man’s thought process. “These situations could have happened to me numerous times,” says Clement. “The prisoners and ex-prisoners in the video are sharing about the whole range of how alcoholism affects people. And they are also sharing about how they turned their lives around with the help of A.A.”
“A New Freedom” (including versions with French and Spanish subtitles) has been enormously successful in spreading the word of A.A. The film only became available for DVD purchase in late August 2016 and, according to Jeff W., the year-end total of DVDs sold comes to 559 copies. A large order came from Area 7, California Northern Interior, where PI/CPC chair and alternate delegate Michael K. contacted a representative of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to get the DVD approved for use in the CDCR. To his astonishment, they replied that they wanted multiple copies for each facility, a total of 175 in all. (The copies were purchased by the Area 7 assembly and delivered to the CDCR two weeks after the request was made.) And in Texas, all four Texas Area Corrections chairs have met with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) with the aim of showing “A New Freedom” on closed circuit TV within TDCJ facilities.
“There’s no telling how many inmates will be reached by these efforts just in California and Texas alone,” Jeff says. “And word is spreading. ‘A New Freedom’ has been viewed by regional forums, assemblies, and corrections committees. Nancy McCarthy, a Class A (nonalcoholic) trustee who has worked in the corrections field for 32 years, was able to screen it for a conference of influential corrections professionals. Don’t forget, the film is also available on aa.org. By the end of 2016, almost 800,000 visitors to the website have clicked on the livestream version. It’s pretty incredible.”
“When I saw the final version,” Chris says, “I thought, yes, this is going to help people. Not just prisoners, but alcoholics who have never seen the inside of a cell. Because the stories of the prisoners in ‘A New Freedom’ are the stories of A.A.s everywhere.”
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