StoryCorps recording days, carried out in partnership with community-based and service organizations, offer clients and constituents an opportunity to take part in a StoryCorps signature interview: a facilitated, 40-minute conversation that is recorded and preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Many partner organizations work closely with us to co-create these recording events, using storytelling as a vehicle for their clients to share their histories and leaving an important record of personal reflection on today’s most pressing issues for future generations.
Recording Days with the Bronx Freedom Fund
As part of the StoryCorps Justice Project, we partnered with New York City’s Bronx Freedom Fund, a charitable bail organization with a revolving fund to pay bail for people accused of misdemeanors with the goal of keeping them in their jobs, with their families, and out of jail while they await trial. We facilitated recording days with clients of the Bronx Freedom Fund, which primarily serves the South Bronx, a community with a backlogged court system and many residents impacted by poverty.
Elena Weissmann, Director of Bronx Operations, offered us a behind-the-scenes look at how a recording day with StoryCorps turned into a new and exciting storytelling tool for her organization:
In our work with StoryCorps, we saw an opportunity to elevate our clients’ voices and stories.
StoryCorps facilitated a process that honored our clients’ lived experiences and empowered them to speak about their contact with the justice system in a safe environment. Using a strategy that prioritized deeply informed consent, transparency, and the centrality of our clients’ truths, the StoryCorps staff helped our clients to truly own this experience, tailoring the recording process to fit the very specific legal needs we faced as an organization working with sensitive court topics, along with our organizational goals.
Selecting participants for this opportunity event was a daunting task. With hundreds of clients who each have an important narrative to share, how to select one over another? In putting these stories out in the world, we wanted to highlight non-traditional voices while also underscoring some of the most common injustices our clients face. In the days leading up to the recording event, some of our participants expressed fear in discussing their sometimes painful interactions with the courts and jails.
I conducted one of the interviews, with a client I’d met with a handful of times. He was never particularly talkative with me, but when we sat down with a facilitator he completely opened up and said things about his experience with jail and organization that were so, so moving. An experience which could have been retraumatizing or at least intimidating was completely the opposite.
The Partnership Continues through Community Cuts
Following the recording days, an important collaboration unfolded: Gautam Srikishan, StoryCorps National Facilitator, worked closely with Bronx Freedom Fund to produce a series of “community cuts,” short, edited versions of the 40-minute recordings that are like the segments we share on NPR. In engaging this way with Bronx Freedom Fund, StoryCorps was able to extend the life of the partnership beyond the recording days, providing tools to help them further their work, message and mission.
Stories Made Visual
In a most imaginative use, Bronx Freedom Fund then partnered with illustrator Eleanor Davis to showcase stories from these interviews, pairing them with images and text that tell the stories of their clients in a way that we think is accessible and powerful. She reflected on the project, particularly on her visual retelling of the story of participant Jorge:
I’m very glad I got to work on this project because I’ve never done reportage comics before. Drawing someone else’s life and experiences is a big responsibility…. I hope my hand was able to illustrate Jorge, Ronald and Malikia’s stories in a way that feels at least a little true.
Here are some sketches of Jorge and his wife, and roughs of a couple sequences from Jorge’s comic.