Ubuntu’s mission is to create a space of healing between people who have caused violence and people who have been impacted by violence. Recent court decisions have paved the way for the release of many juvenile lifers. The reentry of many juvenile lifers brings celebration to their families, but survivors of violence and the families of victims do not always feel the same way. Ubuntu aims to create an open discussion surrounding this topic.
We were fortunate enough to meet with two incredible figures in the restorative justice community in Philadelphia. Rosalind Pichardo founded “Operation Save Our City” after her brother was murdered. The organization focuses on the families of victims to help them cope with their losses and to bring justice for the crimes. Additionally, Rosalind is a survivor of violence herself. Now, she works to be the voice for families and to help her community by breaking these violent cycles that have such a large impact on so many individuals and families.
We also met with Kempis “Ghani” Songster, a juvenile lifer who recently received parole. Ghani served thirty years at Graterford Prison and was released in December. Ghani spent his time at Graterford by self-reflecting, learning, and earning a degree through Villanova University. In the time since his reentry into society, he has been involved with speaking engagements, such as the PBS podcast "The Frontline: Dispatch”, and works at a gym while advocating for juvenile lifers. We were struck by his profound and moving knowledge and wisdom.
In the process of creating our promotional videos for Ubuntu, we realized how emotional and personal the topics surrounding this event can be. We knew it was important to be aware of the sensitive nature of the issues associated with Ubuntu and The Redemption Project. Before our interviews, we met with Mike Lyons, Communications professor at SJU and co-founder of both Ubuntu and The Redemption Project. Mike provided us with tips to use when we conducted our interviews. We found that these tips were extremely useful when addressing sensitive topics and allowed for us to produce interesting, informative, and emotional interviews with Rosalind and Ghani.
As an interviewer, it is your job to take advantage of the opportunity to capture the voice and story of your subject while maintaining a professional and considerate atmosphere. Here are some tips on what to do and what not to do when interviewing subjects about sensitive topics.
Understand the topic of your interview, for example the issue of restorative justice, before going into the interview.
Take the time to do as much research as possible to learn the facts about your interview topic and learn about the story of your interviewee. It is important to be an informed interviewer as well as a knowledgeable listener. This shows that the time spent with your subject is valuable, and it also allows you to have a productive interview. Showing the subject that you, as the interviewer, have taken the time to perform background research on them or their organization will allow you to ask relevant, clear questions that the subject has knowledge and can elaborate on. Being knowledgeable about the subject’s background will help them to feel more comfortable and make your interview more productive. Approaching the interview with consideration and effort before it begins will allow you to make the time spent interviewing worthwhile and to get some great material.
Keep in mind a goal of where you'd like the conversation to go, but keep the interview conversational.
The interview will flow much better and be more successful if it is conversational. Actively listening and having a conversation, rather than jumping from question, will help build a sense of trust between the interviewer and the subject. It is more effective to listen to the subject’s answers and build off of there so that the interviewer can make the most out of what the subject is saying. Information can be lost or forgotten if active listening is not practiced, and the interview can seem forced if there are too many unrelated questions being asked.