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Growing Up Behind Bars provides rare access into the inner thoughts and personal lives of four San Quentin juvenile offenders sentenced to a maximum of life in prison for homicides they committed before the age of 17. Though a split decision changed their lives forever, the factors that led to their incarceration had been culminating long before they ever committed their crimes. The abuse and volatility that plagued their short existences, shattered their innocence early on. 


These young men, who prior to coming to prison had never shaved, been on a date or learned to drive a car, must now navigate complex issues like acceptance, masculinity and taking responsibility for their crime. Without access to traditional role models, they must depend on each other for support and guidance. At varying points along this shared journey, each contributes their own unique perspective and experiences. In the end, the diverse backgrounds and personalities build upon and contrast with each other in a profound way.


Growing Up Behind Bars Trailer

Growing Up Behind Bars Trailer





Sha is a filmmaker and multimedia producer who was recently released from San Quentin State Prison. In August of 2018, his 27 year-to-life prison sentence for assault with a firearm was commuted by then-Governor Jerry Brown. While incarcerated at San Quentin, Sha produced a number of multimedia projects that ranged from audio podcasts to short films. He also curated and was the lead video editor for TEDx San Quentin. Prior to his release, Sha served as chairman of the Society of Professional Journalist, the first SPJ chapter to be formed inside a prison.



Brian is a filmmaker and editor currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. Brian has more than 6 years of experience producing media content. He has produced content at San Quentin and as the  Executive Director of the San Quentin Prison Report—a media outlet run exclusively by prisoners. Brian is dedicated to creating positive role models locally by changing the lives of those who negatively influence our communities. Brian is a member of the San Quentin's Day of Peace Committee and serves as General Manager of the San Quentin Kings 40 and over basketball team. He is also pursuing his associate of arts degree at Patten University and headed the Video Production Committee for TEDxSanQuentin.



Avery is a video journalist with a passion for social justice. She currently works as the Lead Videographer for a presidential campaign after a two year role as as a Video Specialist for a national political campaign with more than 8 million supporters. She graduated from San Francisco State University, where she majored in multimedia journalism and minored in decision science. Her past achievements include placing first in the Hearst Multimedia Features Competition, having her first published video selected for the 2016 Bay Area Global Health Film Festival, and receiving Honorable Mention for Associated Collegiate Press 2017 College Reporter of the Year.



Lulu is a documentary film student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Most recently, she worked as a videographer at The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, a two-week intensive program where she worked on an enterprise video and print piece about alternative to detention programs for youth who are navigating the criminal justice system. Her work has been featured in a number of publications such as, Mission Local, The Associated Press, Monterey County Weekly, the San Francisco Public Press and El Tecolote. 





In California alone, more than 2,600 juvenile offenders are currently serving life sentences.

Coverage of juvenile offenders has been limited and sensationalized—with television programs like Lockup, Beyond Scared Straight, and Kid Killers exploiting fear for ratings and constructing an incomplete image of juvenile offenders that over-emphasizes their danger, violence, and criminality. News stories rarely extend past an offender’s crime, preventing society from discovering the period of rehabilitation and self-improvement that often follows.

Through a deep exploration of four individuals, tracing their backgrounds, crimes, punishment, and experience taking accountability and growing up in prison, we can begin to understand the circumstances that cause an individual to take another’s life, and scrutinize the utility and impact of youth incarceration.

Growing Up Behind Bars seeks to catalyze much-needed conversation and inspire collective action around juvenile justice reform. By connecting with our audience in an accessible, relevant, and engaging manner, we hope to transform passive viewers into active citizens. 

Why This Film Matters




San Francisco Bay Area & San Quentin State Prison


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