Congratulations to all of the winners of the annual Arizona Attorney Creative Arts Competition. Each of them is featured in our May issue, which will be available in late April.

Because of obvious restrictions, our music winner’s work cannot be published in the magazine. But it is available, here, for you to hear and enjoy. Well done, Doug Passon.

I previously wrote about a film of Doug’s here. Read more about it below.

Here is Doug’s background and bio:

DOUG PASSON has been playing guitar and writing songs since the age of 14. He has been practicing criminal defense in the Valley for almost 17 years. His other creative passion is film. He is President & Creative Director of D Major Films (dmajorfilms.com), which produces commercial and narrative documentaries on topics and for organizations focused on fostering social change. He also teaches and consults with legal professionals nationwide on how to use moving pictures as a tool of persuasion in their court cases.

“No Tomorrow” is a meditation on the joy and pain of living, and a call to live more deeply by embracing the uncertainty of the future.

A compelling and charming film comes to Scottsdale on Sunday, Feb. 23.

As Doug says, he wrote the words, melody and music. “The song is performed by Dan Nichols, a singer/songwriter based out of Raleigh, N.C., and a dear friend of mine. Dan is the subject of a documentary film I recently directed called ‘Road to Eden’ (www.roadtoedenfilm.com). The song is a reminder that life is fragile and temporary and if we are to live fully, we must live fully in the moment. This was inspired, in part, by the life and death of an incredible lawyer, mentor and friend, Darrow Soll.”

Here is Doug’s winning song, “No Tomorrow.”

And here are a few photos of Doug at the magazine photo shoot.

Doug Passon being photographed by Karen Shell, foreground, Tempe Center for the Arts, March 3, 2014.

Doug Passon being photographed by Karen Shell, foreground, Tempe Center for the Arts, March 3, 2014.

Doug Passon passes the time between shoots, Tempe Center for the Arts, March 3, 2014.

Doug Passon passes the time between shots, Tempe Center for the Arts, March 3, 2014.

prison_green haven NYYou may not have known that a Prison Awareness Club was a thing. But in a nation apparently committed to that growth industry, it only makes good sense that college students might engage on the topic of corrections.

This Friday, March 28, the third annual Prison Education Conference will be staged at ASU.

The all-day event is sponsored by the Department of English, the School of Social Transformation, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The free event (open to the public) will include speakers, discussion panels and the screening of what looks to be a compelling film.

Writer Sought

I may be able to attend, but I currently have a conflict. If you are a law student, student of the law (most generally defined), or a lawyer—and you are NOT one of the event organizers—I invite you to contact me to discuss a guest blog post. It might cover the entire event, or perhaps be just a review of the film Zero Percent. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Keynote Speaker

The conference includes a keynote by author Marshall Frank. As a news story describes his work:

“This year’s conference features keynote speaker Marshall Frank, a retired police captain from Miami, Fla., who led more than a thousand homicide investigations during his career and has since written hundreds of op-eds and articles about the state of America’s justice system.”

“In his most recent book ‘Criminal InJustice in America,’ Frank explores inequities of the prison system, “a multi-billion-dollar industry, which would collapse if there was a sudden downturn in inmate residency.” Perhaps that’s why the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but a staggering 25 percent of its prisoners. Critics have hailed ‘Criminal InJustice’ as ‘challenging,’ ‘thought-provoking’ and “daring.’”

Read the complete ASU News story here.

Panels Cover Prison Education

The complete agenda is here.

Among the speakers will be a representative from the Arizona Department of Corrections, and his compatriot from the New Mexico prison system. The organizers also feature the insights of educators from three Arizona prison complexes.

A second keynote will be Sean Pica, head of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. And it is the Hudson connection that may yield one of the day’s most enlightening aspects—a film.

Zero Percent Film To Screen

The film trailer for Zero Percent explains—a little—about the challenges faced by incarcerated individuals. Watch the trailer here.

More information about Hudson Link is here. And you can follow their posts on Facebook too.

The event location is the University Club on the ASU campus. A scalable map is here.

RSVP: peac.org@asu.edu

flier Prison Education Conference 2014_opt

A compelling and charming film comes to Scottsdale on Sunday, Feb. 23.

A compelling and charming film comes to Scottsdale on Sunday, Feb. 23.

This Sunday in Scottsdale, the film Road to Eden will be shown at the Harkins Camelview. If your Sunday afternoon is still free, I urge you to see it. If it’s not, then break your other appointments and go.

When I sat down to write about it, I was just going to view the eight-minute preview available on the film’s website. But I was so taken by that clip, I decided to stay up way too late last night to view the entire film (which writer/director Doug Passon had provided to me in advance).

So I may be sleepy this morning, but that is entirely overborne by the pleasure and excitement I took away from the film.

Not knowing what to expect in a film made by someone whose day job is attorney (Doug works in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix), I was surprised but intrigued to see the movie is an exploration of the Jewish holiday called Sukkot. Here is part of the film’s description:

“Road to Eden is a feature-length documentary film that captures the essence of Judaism’s most profound teachings about our connection to the earth, the fragility of existence, and our dream of a world perfected.”
“The spine of the film is the inspirational journey of Dan Nichols, a tour de force of modern Jewish music, who took his show on the road for the Jewish festival of Sukkot in October 2011. Dan and his incredible band Eighteen loaded into an RV and wandered through the Deep South. Each day of Sukkot brought a new town, a unique celebration, and uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking Sukkot stories.”

Before you make assumptions, this is not a movie made just for a Jewish audience. The messages it explores—about community, and ardor for a life fully lived, and about ever becoming a fuller self—are compelling ones for any viewer.

In addition, Doug told me, “Although the movie is rooted in Jewish thought, the themes of the film are universal and particularly relevant to the legal community, with a heavy emphasis on immigrant rights and social justice.”

"Road to eden" includes beautiful visual markers throughout that should be printed, framed and displayed.

“Road to Eden” includes beautiful visual markers throughout that should be printed, framed and displayed. (Here’s just one.)

Those last two elements come through strongly, especially as Dan Nichols and his bandmates travel through Alabama, which at the time had just enacted a harsh anti-immigration law (“the Arizona law on steroids,” as a Diane Sawyer describes it in a news clip). And the journey about Sukkot is masterfully capped by an extended discussion about Martin Luther King, Jr. As we hear from a fellow civil rights advocate, Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, who stood next to King as he was shot in Memphis, viewers may be moved to explore their own choices and the public policies that guide us all. It is a deeply moving interview.

If you only view the movie to learn more about Sukkot, a below-the-radar holiday, it would be worth it. (The holiday requires construction of a temporary structure, largely open to the elements, recalling those who had been freed from slavery in Egypt but who had to wander before ever finding a permanent home.) Seeing the variety of creative ways people celebrate is marvelous. But it wasn’t until about 40 minutes in that I could see that all of us humans may be encapsulated in Sukkot—at least, all of us humans who are still questing and aiming to improve.

Here is Dan Nichols praising the Jewish kids camps that dot the country and that mean so much to those who attend:

“Who’s there? These living, breathing Sukkot, these children, who are in transition, who are not strong structures yet. They are still trying to figure out who they’re gonna be, what’s important to them, what they stand for.”

Open-eyed viewers may see a little of themselves in those summer camps.

The generational imperative is strong in the film, and it is emphasized finally in the civil rights advocate interview. Dan asks Reverend Kyles how he continues on, even in the face of heartbreak like the assassination of Dr. King. The answer: We still have a long way to go. But “these young people will find ways that we cannot imagine.”

Before I sign off, I must point out two additional strong elements of the film: The music (yes, it’s a band-on-the-road film) is fantastic, heartfelt, beautifully composed and sung. And the interstitial illustrations that pepper the film are remarkable, wisely chosen and perfectly evoke the path on a road to a better world. Animation was done by ZAZ Animation Studio, Israel.

The film is playing one time, as part of the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. Tickets are available for purchase on the Festival website, or you can buy tickets at the theatre right before the screening. Students are 1/2 price.

The film screens Sunday, Feb. 23, at 3:00 pm, at Harkins Camelview Theatre, 7001 E. Highland Ave., Scottsdale 85251. I hope to see you there.

More about the film is here.

Herman Wallace in 2008 (photo: The Innocence Project)

Herman Wallace in 2008 (photo: The Innocence Project)

Herman Wallace, whom I have written about a few times, passed away last week. His death followed just days after he had been released from in a Louisiana prison.

As the ABA Journal summarized the varied news stories:

“An inmate held in solitary confinement for 41 years for the murder of a Louisiana prison guard has died just a few days after he was released from prison because of a federal judge’s order.”

“The New York Times reports that the inmate, Herman Wallace, died Friday morning from liver cancer at the age of 71, while the New Orleans Times-Picayune says Wallace died late Thursday. He had maintained his innocence in the murder until he died.”

“Wallace was a member of the Black Panthers and was in prison for armed robbery when he and two others were convicted in the prison guard’s 1972 slaying. The group was known as the Angola Three, based on the site of the prison. A lawyer for Wallace, George Kendall, told the Times that the conviction was based on shoddy evidence and alleged that the convicted men were kept in solitary because prison officials were worried they would organize the prison for the Panthers.”

Hermans House movie poster

Herman’s House film poster

“Wallace’s lawyers claim he was convicted based on accounts by witnesses who were given incentives to testify, but the deals weren’t disclosed until decades later.”

“U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Jackson ruled on Tuesday that Wallace’s habeas petition should be granted because of systematic exclusion of women from the Louisiana grand jury that returned the indictment. Wallace was re-indicted on Thursday, the stories say.”

I first came across Wallace via a film focused on solitary confinement; I reviewed the film, Herman’s House, which I found compelling on a number of levels.

Wallace’s death was covered by multiple news outlets, both here and abroad.

Amnesty International issued a statement on Wallace’s death here, and previously covered the case here.

Labor Day 2013 Rosie the RiveterI had thought that in a Labor Day blog post, I would manage to avoid all legal topics. And yet here we are with a “lawyer” reference.

On the Tribeca website, they are kind enough to recommend “6 movies to stream this Labor Day weekend”:

“It’s a long weekend upcoming, and hopefully one where you have plenty of time to sit down with your streaming-movie service and watch a few films. We have your Labor Day-specific recommendations for movies featuring characters with interesting/unusual jobs.”

Here’s what they say about The Lincoln Lawyer:

“[Matthew McConaughey had] sneakily won a bunch of raves for The Lincoln Lawyer, which presents like a regular old boring legal thriller and then proves that legal thrillers can still be freaking excellent.”

Click here to see all their picks. And don’t let anyone tell you to go outside and enjoy the sun.

Tribeca_logo

Hermans House movie posterBeginning tonight on most PBS stations (including in Arizona), a documentary film will air that describes one inmate’s long confinement in solitary.

Herman Wallace is in a Louisiana penitentiary, where he has spent decades in solitary. Here is a description of the movie and his situation:

“Herman Wallace may be the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the United States—he’s spent more than 40 years in a 6-by-9-foot cell in Louisiana. Imprisoned in 1967 for a robbery he admits, he was subsequently sentenced to life for a killing he vehemently denies. Herman’s House is a moving account of the remarkable expression his struggle found in an unusual project proposed by artist Jackie Sumell. Imagining Wallace’s ‘dream home’ began as a game and became an interrogation of justice and punishment in America. The film takes us inside the duo’s unlikely 12-year friendship, revealing the transformative power of art. A co-presentation with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).”

Want to know more about the movie? Go here and here.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to screen the film, and I posted my review here.

For a quicker (and less verbose) synopsis, watch the trailer below.

Hermans House movie posterTonight, a film will be screened at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art that may interest lawyers and many others who seek to examine the U.S. corrections system. (Jump to the bottom for times, tickets, etc.)

Herman’s House is a feature documentary that explores what the filmmakers understatedly call “the unlikely friendship between a New York artist and one of America’s most famous inmates as they collaborate on an acclaimed art project.”

The inmate is Herman Joshua Wallace, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison on a bank robbery sentence. While he served his sentence, though, he and a fellow prisoner were accused of murdering an Angola (La.) prison guard, which landed him in solitary confinement. Though claims have been made that he may be innocent of the death charge (including claims by a widow of the guard), he has remained in solitary confinement for decades.

The film opens with an artist forming and sanding a uniquely shaped object: Is it an egg? Perhaps a stylized womb?
(more…)

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