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"A Sentence of Their Own" (2001)

By Edgar A. Barens. 64 minutes. Chronicles one familys annual pilgrimage to a New Hampshire State Prison and reveals the damaging impact incarceration has on families.

15 T0 LIFE: Kenneth's Story

A film by Nadine Pequeneza. Eleven years ago Kenneth Young received four life sentences. He was 15 years old. The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. This is the story of one of those children, now a young man, seeking a second chance in Florida – one of the most punitive states in the country. For over a decade Kenneth believed he would die behind bars, until in 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled life without parole sentences for children who haven’t killed unconstitutional. In Tampa, Florida we follow Kenneth Young’s legal battle for release. Recruited by his mother’s crack dealer to rob hotels, Kenneth needs to prove that he is rehabilitated and that the judge who sentenced him to life was wrong to throw away the key. 15 TO LIFE weaves the unfolding story of Kenneth’s resentencing with the story of his difficult childhood, and the circumstances that lead to a 30-day crime spree that changed his life forever.

Beyond Conviction

"Beyond Conviction" tells the moving story of three crime victims on a journey toward healing and resolution. The film follows participants in a pioneering program run by the state of Pennsylvania in which victims of the most violent crimes meet face-to-face with their perpetrators. Beyond Conviction provides a rare glimpse into the lingering pain, questions and regrets for both victims and perpetrators and reveals the bold and difficult path to redemption and reconciliation.

Boxed Out: Criminal Records & The "Ban the Box" Movement in Philadelphia

Broken On All Sides

"Broken on All Sides is a compelling documentary addressing racial inequities within our criminal justice system and its devastating collateral consequences. It is an excellent resource to use in educating, motivating, and empowering your group, organization, or community on this critical issue." - James E. Williams, Jr.

Concrete, Steel and Paint: A film about crime, restoration and healing

By Cindy Burstein and Tony Heriza (55 minutes). When men at Graterford Prison in Pennsylvania join with victims of crime to create a mural about healing, their views on punishment, remorse, and forgiveness collide. Finding consensus is not easy - but as the participants move through the creative process, mistrust gives way to surprising moments of human contact and common purpose. The film, featuring Philadelphia's internationally recognized Mural Arts Program, raises important questions about crime, justice and reconciliation-and dramatically illustrates how art can facilitate dialogue about difficult issues.

Conviction: The Movie

Conviction: The Movie (2010), Directed by Tony Goldwyn. Written by Pamela Gray. Stars: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell and Melissa Leo. The real-life story of a single mother named Betty Ann Waters, who tended bar while acquiring her GED, bachelor's degree, and then her law degree, all so that she could represent her brother Kenny, wrongly convicted of murder. The story's history goes back 30 years, to when a Massachusetts woman was brutally murdered, and Betty Ann's brother was convicted of the crime. Betty Ann had faith that her brother was incapable of committing such a horrific crime. Betty Ann's story is comprised of setback upon setback, as her marriage and her relationship with her sons were strained by her efforts, and yet she never once seemed to consider giving up. And so, with the discovery of DNA at the murder scene, the unending determination of Betty Ann, and the assistance of Barry Scheck's Innocence Project, Kenny Waters was finally exonerated after 18 years in prison.

Corrections (2000)

By Ashley Hunt. 58 minutes. The story of justice turned to profit.

Crime After Crime: The Battle to free Deborah Peagler

In 1983, Deborah Peagler, a woman brutally abused by her boyfriend, was sentenced to 25 years-to-life for her connection to his murder. Twenty years later, as she languished in prison, a California law allowing incarcerated domestic-violence survivors to reopen their cases was passed. Enter a pair of rookie land-use attorneys convinced that with the incontrovertible evidence that existed, they could free Deborah in a matter of months. What they didn't know was the depth of corruption and politically driven resistance they'd encounter, sending them down a nightmarish, bureaucratic rabbit hole of injustice.

Crown Heights

Feature length movie based on a true story. 2017. When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend Carl King devotes his life to proving Colin's innocence.

Encountering Attica

Encountering Attica is a 24 min. short documentary that chronicles a year-long "encounter" between three first-year law students who venture inside Attica state prison to meet with five men serving life sentences at Attica state prison. The law students struggle with their own preconceived notions about crime and punishment, while the inmates struggle to suspend their own skepticism about lawyers and the legal profession. What emerges is a new understanding and appreciation of humanity on both sides of the bars.

Gideon's Army

USA | 2013 | 96 min
directed by: Dawn Porter
Following a ruling from the 1963 Supreme Court Case Gideon vs. Wainwright, state courts are required to provide counsel for defendants unable to afford legal representation in court. Three public defenders from the Deep South tirelessly work to make this law of equality a reality. Director Dawn Porter presents three visionary lawyers, Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick, struggling their way through long hours for low pay. While representing anywhere around 150 clients at a time, dealing with the pressures of not having a social life, and receiving the occasional death threats, Williams, Alexander, and Hardwick push their personal boundaries in an attempt for justice. Through the support of the Southern Public Defender Training center and each other, these attorneys boldly push forward in a profession that causes even the most dedicated to resign within their first year. The depiction of physical and emotional exhaustion combined with pure determination is unforgettable and inspiring. Winner, Editing Award: U.S. Documentary, 2013 Sundance Film Festival.


Girlhood tells two coming-of-age stories from the real America: Shanae, ten years old when she was gang-raped by five boys, responded by drinking and drugging, and then graduated to murder, with the stabbing death of a friend, at age 11. Megan, whose mother abandoned her to turn tricks to support her ravaging heroin addiction, ran away from ten different foster homes before being arrested for attacking another foster child with a box cutter. Both girls ended up in the Waxter Juvenile Facility, home to Maryland's most violent juvenile offenders. It is here that their journeys really begin. Produced and Directed by Liz Garbus. Produced by Rory Kennedy.

Hard Road Home

Odds are that if you go to prison and are lucky enough to get out, you'll be going back sometime soon. Julio Medina, however, beat the odds. A drug-dealing gang leader when he entered prison, Julio left 12 years later a changed man. He created Exodus Transitional Community, a program in Harlem dedicated to breaking the cycle of incarceration that ensnares so many. The trick to Exodus is that its staff knows firsthand what it's like to go to jail. They're all ex-cons - the baddest group of do-gooders around, who reach out to their clients like nobody else can. HARD ROAD HOME tells the story of this high-risk, high-drama world and the extraordinary task of turning around the fate of any person born into it. A GreenHouse Pictures film. Directed by Macky Alston, 2007.

How Do You Spell Murder?

Chronicles a year in the life of a group of men who are illiterate and incarcerated in New Jersey. It explores the powerful connection between illiteracy and crime. The film profiles several of student-tutor teams working together. The prisoners recount years of humiliation in the public school system, where they were either held back repeatedly or promoted without adequate preparation. Many have undiagnosed learning disorders. Almost all are dropouts. Their years of frustration and anger were brought to unyielding conclusions at criminal trials where they could barely grasp the legal documents and procedures that determined their fates. The film profiles one such student-tutor team from their first session through to a year later when the student can read. Inmate tutor Sammy recounts that he was functionally illiterate when he entered prison. While in prison he taught himself to read and is now a poet as well as a tutor.


Juvies is an intimate and harrowing look at the turbulent journeys of three young men in and out of Baltimore's Juvenile Justice System. In an approach similar to The Farm, the filmmakers obtained unprecedented access to a world generally closed to the outside. With unique candor and raw emotional drama, the film draws the viewer inside the harsh and unforgiving world of juvenile detention centers and prisons. Set primarily in Maryland's Cheltenham Youth Facility -- originally known as The Center for Reformation for Colored Boys -- the film explores the events that propel these troubled young men into the system, their experiences through court, commitment, rehabilitation and release, and the challenges they face when they return to their communities. Directed and produced by Liz Garbus. Produced by Rory Kennedy and Jesse Moss. 2000.

Killer Poet

Killer Poet tells the story of Norman Porter, a convicted double murderer from Massachusetts who served 25 years in prison before escaping to Chicago. There he spent the next two decades living as a poet/intellectual by the name of JJ Jameson - an elaborately crafted false identity - until he was apprehended in 2005, thanks to a relentless police investigation and a compromising trail left by his audacious personna. He had just been named Chicago's "Poet of the Month" when the law finally caught up with him.

Throughout his prison years, Porter had transformed himself in the eyes of authorities from a convicted killer to a trusted prison leader at the heart of the prison reform movement. Today, Porter is back in a maximum-security penitentiary and will likely die behind bars.

To trace the story, the film interweaves varying perspectives on an elusive and enigmatic persona, from the eccentric characters living in the heart of Chicago's beatnik-artist community, to the victims' embittered families in Boston and the vigilant officers of the Violent Fugitive Apprehesion Unit and their twenty year hunt for a killer.

Life Sentence

A personal look at the impact of long-term imprisonment and the adjustment back into society. While providing positive opportunities for other formerly incarcerated people, these six successful men and women must deal with the hindrances of lifetime parole. The film explores the criminal justice system, as well as the hope, ambition, and obstacles they've overcome to prove change is possible. Personal Stories: Mika'il DeVeaux, Mark Graham, Anthony Papa, Sheryl Sohn, William Eric Waters, Sharon White. Also Including: Jeffrion Aubry (New York State Assemblyman), Robert Dennison (Former Chairman NY State Division of Parole), Marc Mauer (Executive Director, The Sentencing Project), Director/Producer: Lisa Gray


In 2009, Noah Schultz's life was seemingly over. After a drug deal gone wrong, shots were fired, and Noah was ultimately convicted of attempted aggravated murder. Plagued with labels he felt defined him and limited his potential, Noah was in a dark place. However, upon seeing a group of role models within the prison system taking the road less traveled, Noah decided to take major steps toward improving his life and preparing for his release. Seven and a half years later, he is released from the system a college graduate, published poet, non-profit founder, business owner, TEDx speaker, and so much more. Life on the outside is only just beginning.

Prison Town, USA

In the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom, a prison opened in rural America every 15 days. "Prison Town, USA" tells the story of Susanville, one California town that tries to resuscitate its economy by building a prison - with unforeseen consequences. Weaving the stories of a laid-off mill worker turned guard, a struggling dairy owner and an inmate's family stranded in Susanville, the film illuminates the legacy of an industry that is transforming rural America.

Red Hook Justice

Imagine a court that works for change instead of punishment. A film by Meema Spadola. 60 minutes. From the http://www.reentrymediaoutreach.org, which offers media resources that will facilitate community discussion and decision making about solution-based reentry programs. A list of documentaries and media resources is available by visiting their website.

Returning Citizens

Returning Citizens focuses on a passionate group of individuals who are looking for a second chance – or perhaps a chance they never had to begin with. Taking place in Southeast Washington, DC, the film offers a humanizing perspective on a community that has been negatively impacted by mass incarceration. From freshly returning individuals struggling to rebuild their lives, to community leaders working to end the on-going cycle of crime and violence, the stories unveiled in “Returning Citizens” offer proof that change is possible when the right opportunities are presented.

Sin by Silence: A film by Olivia Klaus

US, 2009, 49 minutes, Color, DVD. Profiles Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA), the US prison system's first prisoner initiated group and led by women, Created by Brenda Clubine in 1989, CWAA has changed laws for battered women, raised awareness for those on the outside, and educated a system that does not fully comprehend the complexities of domestic abuse. Like many CWAA members, Brenda's years of inflicted abuse were never fully revealed. But because of CWAA's work and advocacy, new laws were enacted that now allow incarcerated survivors to challenge their original conviction. With unprecedented access inside the California Institution for Women.

Slavery by Another Name

Directed by Sam Pollard, produced by Catherine Allan and Douglas Blackmon, written by Sheila Curran Bernard, the tpt National Productions project is based on the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Blackmon. Slavery by Another Name challenges one of our country's most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The documentary recounts how in the years following the Civil War, insidious new forms of forced labor emerged in the American South, keeping hundreds of thousands of African Americans in bondage, trapping them in a brutal system that would persist until the onset of World War II.

Based on Blackmon's research, Slavery by Another Name spans eight decades, from 1865 to 1945, revealing the interlocking forces in both the South and the North that enabled this "neoslavery" to begin and persist. Using archival photographs and dramatic re-enactments filmed on location in Alabama and Georgia, it tells the forgotten stories of both victims and perpetrators of neoslavery and includes interviews with their descendants living today. The program also features interviews with Douglas Blackmon and with leading scholars of this period.

Southwest of Salem: the Story of the San Antonio Four

The documentary tells the story of Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez who were convicted in the late 1990s of gang-raping two little girls who were Ramirez's nieces. The women had recently come out as lesbians and prosecutors used their sexuality as a motive. The women refused plea deals and took the rare step of testifying in their defense to say they had done no wrong. They spent nearly 15 years in prison for a crime so unspeakable they simply became known as the "San Antonio Four.” After years of fighting to clear their names, late last year, the state's highest court exonerated them and overturned their convictions (in part due to this documentary), saying they had achieved the "Herculean" task of proving their innocence.

The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975

Written and directed by Goran Hugo Olsson; edited by Hanna Lejonqvist and Mr. Olsson; music by Ahmir Questlove Thompson and Om'Mas Keith; produced by Annika Rogell; released by Sundance Selects.

The Gray Area

"The Grey Area" is an intimate look at women's issues in the criminal justice system and the unique experience of studying feminism behind bars. Through a series of captivating class discussions, headed by students from Grinnell College, a small group of women who are incarcerated at a maximum security women's prison in Mitchellville, Iowa, share their diverse experiences with motherhood, drug addiction, sexual abuse, murder, and life in prison . The women, along with their teachers, explore the ambiguous 'grey area' that is often invisible within the prison walls, and delve into issues of gender, sexuality, class and race.

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes

THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES is a film about the prison in which we never see a penitentiary. Instead, the film unfolds as a cinematic journey through a series of landscapes across the USA where prisons do work and affect lives, from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires, to a Bronx warehouse full of goods destined for the state correctional system, to an Appalachian coal town betting its future on the promise of prison jobs.

the | visitors

the | visitors, by Melis Birder, is a feature-length documentary about passengers of a charter bus that leaves New York City every weekend for various prisons located in Upstate New York. Reflecting the struggles of a unique culture living at the intersection of confinement and the free world, the story follows the coordinator of the bus, Denise, whose husband is coming home soon after 17 years of imprisonment. This film is a powerful testament to love, life, and commitment.

This Black Soil: A Story of Resistance and Rebirth (2004)

Directed by Teresa Konechne and produced by Working Hands Productions. This film chronicles the successful struggle of Bayview, Virginia, a small and severely impoverished rural African-American community, to pursue a new vision of prosperity. Catalyzed by the defeat of a state plan to build a maximum-security prison in their backyard, the powerful women leaders and residents created the Bayview Citizens for Social Justice non-profit organization, secured $10 million in grants, purchased the proposed prison site land and are now building a new community from the ground up.

To Be Heard

The story of three teens from the South Bronx whose struggle to change their lives begins when they start to write poetry. As writing and reciting become vehicles for their expressions of love, friendship, frustration, and hope, we watch these three youngsters emerge as accomplished self-aware artists, who use their creativity to alter their circumstances.

A verité film, intimately shot over four years, To Be Heard is the story of three friends and the love that develops between them as they evolve as artists. This "tripod," as they call it, is bound by proximity, circumstance, and poetry. To Be Heard is also the story of how language links people. Pearl is the support and soul of the three; Karina is the passion and heart; and Anthony is the energy and physicality. In a community where friendships are kept tenuous for many reasons, these three build a bond based on language, respect, and the need to survive.

Troop 1500

Follows five young Girl Scouts - sisters Caitlin and Mikaela, Jasmine, Jessica and Naomi - whose mothers are serving time.

Up the Ridge

"Up the Ridge" is a documentary produced by Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby. In 1999, Szuberla and Kirby were volunteer DJ's for the Appalachian region's only hip-hop radio program in Whitesburg, KY when they received hundreds of letters from inmates transferred into nearby Wallens Ridge State Prison, the newest prison built to prop up the region's sagging coal economy. The letters described human rights violations and racial tension between staff and inmates. Filming began that year and, through the lens of Wallens Ridge, the film offers viewers an in-depth look at the United States prison industry and the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of inner-city minority offenders to distant rural outposts. Up the Ridge explores competing political agendas that align government policy with human rights violations, and political expediencies that bring communities into racial and cultural conflict with tragic consequences.

Video Letters from Prison

An hour-long film that takes an unflinching look at the powerful role a father plays in the lives of his children. The film follows three young Lakota girls from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as they form a tentative relationship with their incarcerated father through the exchange of video letters. The filmmakers document the years that follow as the family mends and each girl matures, finding her own sense of identity and purpose. Included are a first visit to the prison, interviews with their mother, Cindy Wheeler, and their father, Marvin Poor Bear, and finally the filming of each of the girls' high school graduations. Jolena, the youngest daughter, moves from being "futureless" to being awarded a Gates Millennium Scholarship at her graduation.

Voices in Time

36 minutes. A window into the lives of women who have served time in prison. In emotionally charged interviews, women share their experiences before, in and after prison and examine the relationship between the prison system and poor communities and communities of color.

Well Contested Sites

Well Contested Sites is a 13 min dance/theater film that explores incarceration in the US Well Contested Sites is a collaboration between choreographer Amie Dowling, film maker Austin Forbord, a group of previously incarcerated men and performing artists from the Bay Area. The dance/theater film follows a group of men as they make their way through the transition from incarceration to life on the 'outside.' The 13 minute piece was developed and filmed on Alcatraz Island. The title stems from the idea that a prisoner's body is a contested site, its presence or absence, its power and its vulnerability are all intensely realized in jails and prisons - institutions that emphasize control, segregation, solitude and physical containment. Several of the cast members have been incarcerated and it is by drawing on these men's physical memories that Well Contested Sites connects audiences to the impact of incarceration. Through using a metaphorical, movement-based aesthetic, the film engages the viewer in a visceral experience. We hope that as a result of seeing the film, audiences will explore the impact of prison policy and practices in the United States today.

What I Want My Words to Do to You (2003)

This program goes inside a writing workshop led by playwright Eve Ensler, consisting of 15 women inmates of New York's Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, most of whom were convicted of murder. The women delve into and expose the most terrifying places in themselves, as they grapple with the nature of their crimes and their own culpability. The film culminates in an emotionally charged prison performance of the women's writing.

What We Leave Behind (2000)

Produced by Visible Voices and Womens International Information Project. 20 minutes. A video made by formerly incarcerated women that challenges stereotypes about women in prison and examines the impact of their incarceration on their children.

Yes In My Back Yard (1999)

By Tracy Huling. 57 minutes. Examines rural dependence on prisons and probes the impact on the keepers and the kept. E-mail tracy@tracyhuling.com
© 2003-2011 The Real Cost of Prisons Project