GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids-based director is heading back to his alma mater Thursday to talk about his documentary on Michigan prisoners.

“Behind Our Walls” is the story of eight Michigan prisoners and their journey in the Calvin University Prison Initiative. The documentary takes place inside of the Richard A. Handlon Correction Facility in Ionia. It follows the prisoners going through a five-year program to receive a bachelor’s in arts.

The director of the film, Nate Roels, graduated from Calvin University in 2017 and began filming for the documentary in 2019.

“I was really moved by these stories and I thought that more people should have the chance to meet these men that are students,” Roels said.

“Behind Our Walls” has been featured at multiple film festivals across the state, including the Grand Rapids Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Film.

“People have been really moved and inspired by the film that students were able to see the film and we’re really grateful,” Roels said.

Roels will be back at his alma mater for a screening on Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium.

“It’s really cool to be able to show this film at Calvin University where I went to school and where the program really takes place,” Roels said.

After the film is shown, Roels will be joined by a panel to talk about it and the Calvin Prison Initiative. The director said the film not only shows what the program can do, but also the resilience and humanity of the incarcerated students.

“You’re not always seeing the things that, the good thing that they’re doing, or the changing while in prison, or the ways that they’re giving back. So you tend to just see people as the worst mistake that they ever committed, that’s kind of what they’re remembered for, other than anything positive that they’re ever able to do after that,” Roels said. 

Roels hopes his film will help spread the stories of these men and encourage others to not judge a book by its cover.

“I hope that viewers of this film come away with more empathy and forgiveness for people in their own lives, but also that they see prisoners differently, that they see them as human beings and not just as their worst mistake,” he said.

Tickets for the Calvin University screening can be purchased on Calvin’s website. Students and faculty admission is free, all other admission is $10. Roels will also have a screening of his film in Grand Haven Friday at Central Park Place at 7 p.m. Tickets for that event can be purchased here