Empowering The Yard

"If you put a man and a woman side by side and they're convicted of the same crime, 9 out of 10, the woman's gonna get stiffer, harder time." -Film Participant

EMPOWERING THE YARD - Set in Oklahoma where more women are incarcerated per capita than anywhere else in the country, EMPOWERING THE YARD looks at HIV prevention from the perspective of incarcerated women who are using peer education to empower themselves, their families, and their communities.

The HIV Peer Education Program provides an opportunity for incarcerated women to teach each other about the issues they face including safe sex, sexually transmitted infections, drugs, and violence. This 15-minute film follows five HIV Peer Educators who explain why incarceration rates for women are so high and speak to the self-esteem and empowerment they have gained through the HIV Peer Education Program.


Discussion Guide*

The purpose of this discussion guide is to help viewers think critically about why so many women are incarcerated, how social conditions affect HIV transition, and foster dialog about what can be done. 


  • Poverty, sexism, substance use, and a history of oppression increase the risks of incarceration and HIV.
  • Peer Education Programs in prisons and jails have the power to transform lives of incarcerated women, their families and communities through knowledge, empowerment, and self-esteem. 

Discussion Questions

  • What social justice issues stood out to you most the film and why?

Patrice Wooden says, "The system in Oklahoma is broke down."

  • What does she mean by this? 
  • What are the social conditions that lead up to incarceration? 
  • Are these the same factors that lead to getting HIV? 

Kimberlynn Bates says, "There was this guy who went in before me and my husband, we had the exact same crime and he got seven years, I got 29.  When I seen him get the seven, I thought, oh my god, I might got a chance, but I didn't." 

  • Why do you think Kimberlynn was sentenced 22 years longer than the man before her with the exact same charge? 
  • How is sentencing decided and by whom? 

Program founder, Dr. Melanie Spector says, "The experiences of women who are incarcerated are unique.  And they can speak to those issues that present risk factors for HIV and STD's much better than any academic." 

  • Why do you thing using peer education might be an effective HIV prevention intervention model? 
  • What are the benefits to peer educators? 
  • What are the benefits to program participants? 

Mary Reddick says, "If weren't for the HIV group here or the program, I don't think I would have the self esteem within me today to go forward because if I just sat here and done my time I would have learned nothing and gone out the same way so I have a chance now of making something of my life I think because of the HIV program." 

  • Describe the relationship between the HIV Peer Education Program, reentry into the community and recidivism. 

Patrice Wooden says, "The majority of the women that are incarcerated are drug addicts.  Drug addicts should not be locked up in prison.  They need to be addressed for their drug issues." 

  • What kind of resources or services are needed to reduce rates of incarceration and HIV?
  • As of January 1, 2008, 1% of the entire U.S. population is incarcerated. (Source: PEW Center on the States Report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008) How do sky- rocketing rates of incarceration impact the fabric of our communities? 
  • Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones says, "You can take this model and expand it to the community ... .  Every community group out there should take an active role in eradicating HIV." 
  • Where else could peer education be used to prevent incarceration and HIV? 
  • What can you, your family and your community do to support peer education to reduce rates of incarceration and HIV?  



ACLU Prisoner Rights Project 

Critical Resistance 
(510) 444-0484 

Institute on Women & Criminal Justice 
Tel: (646) 336-6100 

Legal Services for Prisoners With Children 
Tel: (415) 255-7036 

National AIDS Fund 
Tel: (202) 408-4848 

General Resources:


Meet the Filmmakers


Contact: empoweringtheyard@gmail.com

EMILY KIRSCH is a young woman with a fierce passion for academic excellence and social justice.  Born and raised in the Bay Area, Emily graduated from San Francisco State University with a self-designed major in Urban Health, Justice and Sustainability. Since she was a teenager,Emily has worked on behalf of her generation, developing her knowledgeand skills for sustainable development and health equity.  Emily isworking as a research consultant for the Green Collar Job Campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. When not making a film or doing community based research, you can catch her throwing really fast kicks as she trains the Brazilian martial art/dance of Capoeira in Oakland, CA.  Emily is excited to release EMPOWERING THE YARD and looks forward to working full time in advocacy, organizing,and policy for health and social justice.   

ERIN PERSLEY: Born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Florida, where she attended the University of Florida, Erin Persley directed and edited several shorts including Berkeley of the South (2004) and Struggle for Choice (2002),which dealt with social justice subjects ranging from abortion to the anti-war student movement. As a graduate of the master's film program at San Francisco State University, she combined her hybrid filmmaking with producing and coordinating other shorts including Fragile Distance(2007) and A Green Mountain in the Drawer (2007). Her first graduatework, Please Report Any Suspicious Activity (2007), focused on the airport institution and used poetics to explore over zealous security measures and unseen spaces. Recently Erin completed Empowering the Yard (2008), which was a collaborative film project examining a peer education program in a Oklahoma prison. Her master's thesis deals with women who have been released from prison.

VINCE HORNER currently lives in Oakland, CA and has graduated from the undergraduate cinema program at San Francisco State University. He is primarily interested in documentary and avant-garde cinema and strives to bring the two to equilibrium through constant exploration of the aesthetic possibilities and limits of the celluloid and digital video formats.  He plans to continue his education on a graduate level, work in the field of video editing and post-production, and produce feature length documentaries that harness the mediums potential as a tool for both social change and artistic expression.  



View the high-quality version of this film


*The information on these pages is provided by the student film makers and does not represent an endorsement or verification of statements from the Health Equity Institute