The Pittsburgh Foundation

Beyond the Wall: documentary charts struggle to rebuild lives after jail

Free screening on Nov. 13 at the August Wilson Center followed by Q & A

PITTSBURGH – A new film that brings the reality of post incarceration to light is screening Monday, Nov. 13. “Beyond the Wall” follows five formerly incarcerated men who are attempting to rebuild their lives and find the anchors that will keep them from returning to jail. The film documents the hardship, challenges and barriers they face in the search for education and employment. For both juveniles and adults, the message of the film is clear: once you’re in the system it’s difficult to get out.

Sponsored by The Pittsburgh Foundation, the screening begins at 5:30 p.m. at the August Wilson Center.

The 75-minute film is followed by an informal Q & A with director and producer, Jenny Philips.  Ms. Phillips will be joined in the post-screening discussion by Louie Diaz, one of the formerly incarcerated men featured in the film, who is now an advocate for incarcerated people. The screening and panel discussion are free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged online at

“Incarceration is both a cause and effect of the poverty so many people and their families face,” said Jeanne Pearlman, senior vice president for Program and Policy at the Foundation. “Our sponsorship of ‘Beyond the Wall’ is our effort to educate the public about the post-incarceration experiences of people who find themselves unable to meet their own basic needs and those of their families. These are often the people we hope to serve through our 100 Percent Pittsburgh programs that seek to open doors to economic opportunity for those who struggle to survive outside of the region’s revitalized economy. The film shows how difficult it is for people who have been in prison to return to their lives, find jobs, housing and to reunite with their families.”

As of Sept. 30, there were 50,698 people in Pennsylvania state prisons, according to the state Department of Corrections. Each day, there are about 2,200 inmates in the Allegheny County Jail. A report published last year by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics notes that the population of the Allegheny County Jail increased 70 percent over the last 20 years. But through those same two decades, the report notes, crime rates fell.

“Beyond the Wall” focuses on Louie Diaz’s efforts to reach inmates before they are released; he works one-on-one attempting to help each man maintain his freedom by staying sober and being productive.

“I made this film because these are challenges we can solve,” said filmmaker Jenny Phillips (The Dhamma Brothers, 2008). When we consider the enormous investments we make as a nation in incarceration and criminal justice, it is critically important that we do a better job of returning citizens to stable and productive lives once their times are served.”

Nationally, 95 percent of former inmates with drug histories return to substance abuse; 68 percent are reincarcerated within three years of their release. The United States accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.

“We spend more on incarceration than any nation on Earth,” said Phillips. “And what do we get for our investment? Both conservative and progressive pubic officials are recognizing that we have to make more effective investments with our limited resources—and that we can do a better job of helping people in the process.”

In Pennsylvania, $42,727 per inmate was spent in 2015 according to a report from Vera Institute of Justice. Total cost spent on prisons in the state was more than $2.1 billion the same year.

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