Playwriting Alumnus Jeffrey James Keyes '10 Wins Two Awards

BY Robbie Armstrong, November 5, 2019

Alumnus Jeffrey James Keyes10 recently won the top prize in Creative Technology at the 2019 NYC Media Lab for his work on Digital Arrest. The NYC Media Lab awarded $25,000 in prizes to projects that represent the creativity, technical depth and potential impact of the latest ideas in emerging media.


In Digital Arrest, an immersive virtual reality experience, the viewer becomes Jarrell Daniels, a young black man whose social media life fueled conspiracy charges leading to a six-year prison sentence in a New York prison. Digital Arrest explores how social media can be used as a tool for policing in the 21st century, promoting the ideal that understanding the role of social media in policing is an essential first step for new criminal justice system reform. 


Keyes served as a staff writer for the project, writing alongside Desmon Upton Patton, Jarrell Daniels, and the team at SAFElab, through the Columbia University School of Social Work. SAFElab is a research initiative focused on examining the ways in which youth of color navigate violence on and offline. Keyes states, “Our team hopes Digital Arrest will be a key tool in preventing the frightening system of e-carceration.” The development of Digital Arrest was part of SAFElab's SIM | ED tech incubator which aims to leverage the power of virtual reality, augmented reality, and 360 video to develop and implement tools, resources and immersive educational modules aimed at providing social media education for all. 


In addition to the top prize in Creative Technology, Keyes also won the Artists' Patron Fund Award for Cream City, a new television pilot he developed alongside Matt W. Cody. Cream City takes place in Milwaukee in 1981, the summer when Schlitz Brewery went on strike and eventually closed. The television show is about a single mother who walks off the picket line and works a job at the city's top German restaurant. The story explores Milwaukee in the 1980s as a microcosm of larger economic changes happening in the United States at that time. Keyes states, “The collapse of Milwaukee's breweries was symbolic of the decline of America's manufacturing-based economy. We're interested in how the collapse of the manufacturing economy released decades of pent-up frustration and prejudice among the working class.” Cream City and its team are looking to begin filming in 2020.