LaunchSpace in Orange to screen documentary about prison education programs

In this still image from the documentary film “Holding Up The Sky,” master welder Ed Jordan, left, teaches apprentice Jimmy Costello. Jordan mentored Costello when they were both in prison in Walpole. Both are featured in “Holding Up The Sky,” which will be shown as part of a program at Orange Innovation Center on June 30.

In this still image from the documentary film “Holding Up The Sky,” master welder Ed Jordan, left, teaches apprentice Jimmy Costello. Jordan mentored Costello when they were both in prison in Walpole. Both are featured in “Holding Up The Sky,” which will be shown as part of a program at Orange Innovation Center on June 30. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Roxbury native Ed Jordan, middle, directs crew members of his construction company. Jordan, a former prison inmate in Walpole, is featured heavily in the documentary film “Holding Up The Sky,” which also features friend and fellow inmate Jimmy Costello, left. The film will be shown as part of a program at Orange Innovation Center on June 30.

Roxbury native Ed Jordan, middle, directs crew members of his construction company. Jordan, a former prison inmate in Walpole, is featured heavily in the documentary film “Holding Up The Sky,” which also features friend and fellow inmate Jimmy Costello, left. The film will be shown as part of a program at Orange Innovation Center on June 30. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Roxbury native Ed Jordan owns a construction company, using the ironworking skills he acquired while incarcerated in Walpole. He is featured heavily in the documentary film “Holding Up The Sky,” which will be shown as part of a program at Orange Innovation Center on June 30.

Roxbury native Ed Jordan owns a construction company, using the ironworking skills he acquired while incarcerated in Walpole. He is featured heavily in the documentary film “Holding Up The Sky,” which will be shown as part of a program at Orange Innovation Center on June 30. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-05-2024 5:00 PM

Modified: 06-11-2024 3:41 PM


ORANGE – To look at them and hear their origins, it doesn’t appear that ironworkers Ed Jordan and Jimmy Costello have much that would bond them.

Jordan was raised by a loving family in a tough, Black neighborhood of Boston. Costello grew up in the largely Irish neighborhood of South Boston, where he joined a gang after being repeatedly raped by a notorious priest he served as an altar boy. But both became “lifers” at a state prison in Walpole following tragic circumstances, only to eventually gain their freedom and be featured in “Holding Up The Sky,” a documentary film set for a screening and fundraiser at LaunchSpace inside the Orange Innovation Center on June 30.

“I’m happy with it. Hopefully this film will get a conversation started,” Costello said about prison reform and recidivism. “I’m real passionate about this subject matter.”

The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, with roughly 1.8 million people behind bars at the end of 2023. And a prison sentence often creates barriers to social, economic and racial justice.

Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, is scheduled to deliver opening remarks at 5 p.m. before handing it over to Milton Jones, director of re-entry services at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, to perform his original spoken-word song “It Came Too Late,” accompanied by local Garold “Gibbon the Troubadour” Amadon on a 12-string guitar. Jones will then introduce film director Bob Nesson, who will introduce his 45-minute documentary for the screening.

Orange resident Mary Canning, who decades ago worked with Nesson at WGBH Boston, is credited as the film’s coordinating producer and is also producing the June 30 event. She said she is fascinated with the connection between childhood trauma and future adult crime.

Jordan and Costello are expected to speak after the screening and Jones will moderate a question-and-answer session. There will also be talk about how to donate to the fundraiser before Nesson closes the event and invites attendees to continue the conversation at Honest Weight Artisan Beer in the innovation center and get food from the Sun Kim Bop food truck. The brewery and food truck will be open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. to accommodate guests before and after the event.

“This is going to be our final fundraiser and I’m hoping that we might be able to raise at least $14,000, $15,000,” Nesson said.

Life-changing experiences

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Jordan’s life changed in an instant decades ago in a playground fight with a fellow teen named Kenny. Knives got involved and Jordan’s pierced Kenny’s heart, killing him. This sent Jordan to prison for 19 years, during which time he met Costello, a small, blond teenager. Costello was one of at least 130 survivors of the abuse of John Geoghan, a pedophile priest exposed by the Boston Globe and featured in the 2015 film “Spotlight.” The abuse caused Costello to join a gang that invaded a home and killed its elderly occupant. At 15, Jimmy was found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to life without parole. He became eligible for parole when the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that minors with those types of sentences could be re-evaluated and possibly released.

Jordan and Costello crossed paths when the latter was verbally abused by a correctional officer in the prison’s canteen, a store where inmates can buy things like hygiene items and snacks. 

“We were able to strike up a mutual respect after that incident,” Jordan told the Greenfield Recorder.

Jordan was eventually released and became an entrepreneur who now owns a construction company that hires former inmates – including Costello.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he says in the film’s trailer, which can be viewed at tinyurl.com/DocuTrailer.

The film focuses on how inmates like Jordan and Costello benefit from education programs inside prison. The two men studied college-level programs and learned critical trades, including welding. Jordan told the Recorder he considers himself in the middle of a comeback, having been declared cancer-free a handful of years after being diagnosed with the disease.

“Life is about struggle, unfortunately. You’re going to struggle. But it’s a beautiful struggle when you’re trying to build something that’s yours and you’re trying to build something that others can benefit from,” he said. “So that’s what makes it a beautiful struggle. It’s almost like working out. There’s a lot of hard lifting, but you love the end result.”

Nesson, who teaches at Emerson College, explained that the film’s seed was planted when some of his students made a documentary about the Haley House Bakery Café, a Roxbury enterprise that hires people released from incarceration.

“So when my students did that film, it woke me up to realize much more had to be done around these issues,” he said.

In 2018, Nesson met up for pizza with Jordan, who he knew through a mutual friend, and the two decided to embark on this project. Much of the film focuses on Jordan’s company working on the Neponset River Bridge, which connects Boston and Quincy. Nesson said he finished the first cut about four years ago and “we’ve been refining it ever since.”

“Bob is an awesome filmmaker. He’s done a lot of legwork on this film,” Costello said. “I think he’s exceptional in what he did.”

Funding has come from individual donors as well as Bikes Not Bombs, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Emerson College, Mass Humanities, and the Center for Independent Documentary.

More information about the film is available at www.holdinguptheskyproject.org or by emailing to HoldingUpTheSkyFilm@gmail.com. Donations can be made at tinyurl.com/DocuDonate and tinyurl.com/DocuDonate2.

Jordan’s company website is www.welders4hire.com.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.