This article is part of Scroll’s Second Chances series. Second Chances highlights the unique experiences and potential of individuals who have overcome substance abuse and/or incarceration, as well as the programs and people that supported their journey.

In a world often marred by incarceration, addiction and cycles of trauma, filmmaker Brenton Gieser sheds light on a story of hope, resilience and transformation in his latest project, “The 50.”

This feature-length documentary dives deep into the lives of 50 incarcerated men who embark on an unprecedented journey to become certified counselors while serving life or long-term prison sentences in California’s overcrowded and drug-saturated prison system.

Directed by Gieser, a filmmaker from Half Moon Bay, California, “The 50” offers a poignant exploration of trauma and repair, weaving together the stories of these men as they navigate their own paths to healing and redemption.

Cameron Clark shared his expertise and how his life has changed since being apart of "The 50."

Cameron Clark shared his expertise and how his life has changed since being apart of "The 50." Photo credit: Chester Chan

At the heart of “The 50” is the Offender Mentor Certification Program, which offers incarcerated individuals the opportunity to become certified substance counselors. For these 50 men, many of whom have been victims and victimizers, the program represents a chance to break free from the cycles of trauma and addiction that have defined their lives.

Through intimate interviews and raw footage, Gieser captures the profound impact of this transformative journey on the participants and those around them.

The film delves into the complexities of identity, culture and class, as the men grapple with their pasts and strive to create a new narrative for themselves. As they confront their own demons and confront the traumas of their pasts, they emerge as healers and agents of change within their communities.

Sol Irving helped found the Offender Mentor Certification program.

Sol Irving helped found the Offender Mentor Certification program. Photo credit: Chester Chan

“The 50” is more than just a documentary; it’s a call to action for audiences to confront their own biases and preconceptions about incarceration, addiction and redemption. Through the stories of these 50 men, Gieser challenges viewers to see beyond labels and stereotypes, and to recognize the humanity and resilience in those society often deems “irredeemable.”

“I hold a deep belief that this film will be a catalyst for healing for its viewers,” Gieser said in a director statement with Filmfreeway.

Learn more about “The 50” and where to watch it here.