Getting graphic with public legal education
We’ve written here before about the expansive effect of storytelling and how it can be used to improve the reach of public legal education and information (PLE). Now we’d like to share the story of how the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) * created a graphic novel for youth called "The Jakob Jackson Story: How Jakob Jackson was almost sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit".
Some time back, Amanda Carling, Legal Education Counsel at AIDWYC, approached the Healthy Aboriginal Network, which has worked on several projects combining storytelling and graphic art, to collaborate on a graphic novel. AIDWYC determined that a good target audience would be kids in grades 7 and 8 in order to catch vulnerable youth before they started skipping classes or dropping out of secondary school.
However, due to limited capacity to pursue funding for PLE projects, AIDWYC was only able to get this project off off the ground through the efforts of Sarah Acker. Sarah, a law student from McGill University in Montreal working with AIDWYC last summer, had a background in theatre, and was interested in exploring the role of art and theatre in PLE.
Sarah approached her sister, Meryl Acker, a scientist by training with an aptitude for art and graphic design, to help out with the project. Sarah wrote the script for the novel, and Meryl illustrated it on a volunteer basis.
Amanda estimates that hundreds of hours went into this project over the summer of 2014. Amanda and Sarah both also credit the outside review of the script and resulting “invaluable practical feedback” provided by Mary Birdsell at Justice for Children and Youth, a community legal clinic that serves vulnerable youth. One example: Mary suggested that Jakob, the main character mistakenly identified as having robbed a convenience store, keep repeating to himself, "I have the right to remain silent" – this is one technique that JFCY suggests to their clients to avoid being pressured into talking.
Jakob’s story was launched in August 2014, and Amanda says that they’ve had “great feedback” from people who have seen it. Amanda is also excited that some local schools in the Thunder Bay area are considering adding it to their grade 7 and 8 curricula.
We find Jakob’s story to be a fresh example of PLE storytelling – and a testament to what can be accomplished when enthusiastic people collaborate on innovative ideas. You can download a PDF version or save a copy of the novel to your Dropbox inbox from the Innocence Canada website.
Links updated August 2019. Note that AIDWYC is now called Innocence Canada.