Jeremy Robins ’93 (far left) with Echoes of Incarceration crew members. Photo/courtesy
March 27, 2020

Teaching Teens to Own Their Stories

Jeremy Robins ’93 trains teens with incarcerated parents in filmmaking, media, and advocacy.
by Rita Savard

For the estimated 2.7 million American children who have a parent behind bars, incarceration is a reality that reverberates through the entire family.

A filmmaker and educator with 20 years of youth media experience, Jeremy Robins ’93 launched Echoes of Incarceration in 2008—an initiative that puts video cameras in the hands of young people with parents in prison. By training teens in media, reporting, and video production, Echoes enables them to create documentaries and educational materials about the criminal justice system’s impact on children. The films have been screened at prisons, festivals, universities, and educational conferences and for lawmakers at the White House. Echoes was even commissioned by Sesame Streetto create a film about visiting parents in prison.

“When you have storytelling grounded in the life experiences of these young people, you begin to see the effects of fractured family life through their eyes,” Robins explains. “The cultural, societal, and economic implications of mass incarceration in the United States is a civil rights issue that needs to be addressed. The voices of the many kids who live through it underscore the personal nature of this reality in ways the outside world doesn’t always see.”

Each summer, Echoes hosts a five-week training camp in New York for youth interested in learning about justice, strategies for advocacy, and how to use filmmaking for change.

Kharon Benson has been active in Echoes since the project began. Benson was 19 when he started working on his first documentary. He went on to make a short film about his relationship with his father, who is serving a 25-year sentence at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York. Now a senior Echoes crew member and youth mentor, Benson has traveled around the world on behalf of the project and successfully lobbied legislators to change New York state laws affecting the children of incarcerated parents.

“Being part of Echoes changed my life,” Benson says. “Without this program, there would have been a lot of voices that would’ve gone unheard.”

Read about more Andover alumni working in fields of justice.

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