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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

ReEntry Stories: Visualizing And Actualizing Life As A Filmmaker

KAMISHA.jpg
courtesy of Kamisha Thomas
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Kamisha Thomas is a filmmaker, writer, director and co-founder of the Returning Artists Guild.

Kamisha Thomas is a filmmaker, writer, director, co-founder of the Returning Artists Guild in Columbus and a returned citizen. Kamisha was a filmmaker before she went to prison, but finished her short film while she was inside. There were a lot of projects in prison, she says, that helped her continue her filmmaking.

Transcript (edited light for length and clarity):

Mary Evans: What drove you to really know that directing film and that facet of media was your main interest?

Kamisha Thomas: What made me know that directing was my lane as far as arts and media is the way I visualize things when someone tells me something. So you can describe the scene outside of your window to me and I will very vividly in my head come up with a picture, images, a way for me to express that vision.

Mary Evans: I think that's amazing because, you know, some people just don't have that skill. You could know what you want, but to actually execute it is difficult. That's something I struggle with. And so what kind of processes did you go through in prison to try to make sure that you maintain these skills while I was incarcerated?

Kamisha Thomas: Of course, I did have the luxury and the opportunity to participate in the Pens to Pictures project, which some may view as the catalyst for my passion. But it's really not. That was more of a great alignment that happened on my journey. So there was the Pens to Pictures project. There was all of the projects that we were involved in, all of the groups which kept me critically thinking and creatively writing in some way, whether it was for the inside out class that we took with Professor Steinmetz or the Women Empowering Women where we had to write speeches and and things of that nature. So all of those things contributed to just the sharpening of my skills and keeping myself productive creatively.

Mary Evans: So let's talk more about Pens to Pictures and how did that process work and what evolved after participating in that program?

Kamisha Thomas: OK, Pens to Pictures was a trailblazing project that was spearheaded by the warden's assistant at the time and a collaboration between Wright State University professor then Chinoye Chukwu , who is now going on to be the first black woman to win the jury prize at Sundance in twenty nineteen - so shout out to her for that. But yes, the Miss Covington, the warden's assistant, got with Chinoye and they ultimately selected five ladies to write and direct short films from behind bars. We went through the entire process from picking out locations and actors for our films. The only thing we weren't able to do was actually be on the set while our films were being shot. But we had co-directors that came in regularly that we worked with over the course of about 16 months. It was myself and four other ladies from within the institution.

Mary Evans: There was some different contests or different awards or fellowship programs you guys submitted your films to. And then what happens?

Kamisha Thomas: So my film was selected for submission to the Cleveland International Film Festival in 2017. That was when I was still incarcerated. So, you know, three years, what, three, four years after we created these films in prison, they're still getting like air time, the Museum of Modern Art. As a part of "Marking Time," which is Nicole Fleetwood spoke about the age of mass incarceration. So the pictures screened as a part of that art exhibit at MoMA in January.

Mary Evans: Since her release from prison commission was awarded the Right of Return Fellowship and is releasing her film project, Silence is Consent this summer.

ReEntry Stories is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.