BEHIND BARS: A CHILD’S PERSPECTIVE

An intimate and unfiltered look at life after a parent is incarcerated.

Aired on April 1, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> LET ME BEGIN TONIGHT WITH SOME SHOCKING STATISTICS.

DESPITE MAKING UP ONLY 4.4% OF THE GLOBAL POPULATION, THE U.S.

HOLDS NEARLY 25% OF THE WORLD'S PRISON POPULATION.

APPROXIMATELY 2.2 MILLION PEOPLE ARE BEHIND BARS IN THIS COUNTRY, MAKING THE UNITED STATES THE WORLD LEADER IN INCARCERATION, ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION.

FOR THE CHILDREN OF THOSE IN PRISON, WHAT'S LEFT BEHIND FOR THEM AFTER THE CELL DOOR SLAMS IS OFTEN TRAGIC AND RIFE WITH ADVERSITY.

IN THE NEW INDEPENDENT LENS DOCUMENTARY, 'TRE MASON DASAN,' FILMMAKER DENALI TILLER FOCUSES THE CAMERA ON THE YOUNG AND THE INNOCENT CAUGHT IN THE CROSSHAIRS OF THE INCARCERATION SYSTEM.

HERE'S A LOOK.

WHERE DID YOU GUYS THINK I WAS WHEN I WAS AWAY?

WHAT WAS IT?

IT WAS A PRISON.

HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU COME UP HERE?

I FEEL GREAT BECAUSE I LOVE SEEING YOU.

I DIDN'T KNOW.

IT'S A HARD RELATIONSHIP.

'TRE MASON DASAN,' PART OF INDEPENDENT LENS ON PBS.

AND DENALI JOINS ME NOW.

DENALI, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

SO THIS FILM IS JUST DRIPPING WITH EMOTION IN A WAY THAT I THINK VIEWERS MIGHT NOT BE EXPECTING.

THIS IS A POPULATION, CHILDREN OF PEOPLE WHO ARE INCARCERATED WHO WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT, BUT WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO HAVE US HEAR FROM THEM IN THEIR OWN WORDS?

FIRST OF ALL, WITHIN CONVERSATIONS AROUND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND THE PRISON SYSTEM ITSELF, WE RARELY HEAR ABOUT THE KIDS AND THE FAMILIES THAT ARE AFFECTED.

A LOT OF THE CONVERSATIONS ARE ON THE PEOPLE THAT ARE ACTUALLY BEHIND BARS AND VICTIMS, BUT REALLY, THERE HASN'T BEEN IN A LENS ON THE COLLATERAL EFFECTS OF A PERSON'S INCARCERATION.

AND THEN WITHIN THAT CONVERSATION ITSELF, WE TALK A LOT ABOUT THE KIDS, JUST LIKE YOU SAID.

BUT WHAT ARE THEY REALLY GOING THROUGH?

AND PART OF THAT FOR ME WAS ALSO IN TERMS OF DESTIGMATIZIZATION, IT DOESN'T AFFECT ONE TYPE OF KID.

THERE IS NOT ONE TYPE OF KID PROFILED THAT FITS EVERY CHILD WHO HAS AN INCARCERATED CHILD.

BETWEEN THE THREE OF THEM, TRE, MASON AND DAS IS AN, THEY'RE ALL DIFFERENT AGES AND COME FROM DIFFERENT FAMILY BACKGROUNDS AND THEY HAVE DIFFERENT SCHOOLS.

SO THEY'RE REALLY DIFFERENT CHILDREN.

AND THAT BECAME REALLY IMPORTANT TOO.

JUST DECONSTRUCTING SOME OF OUR POTENTIAL BIASES AROUND KIDS WHO HAVE PARENTS IN PRISON.

THIS STORY COULD HAVE TAKEN PLACE ANYWHERE, BUT HOW IS IT YOU WERE ABLE TO FOCUS ON THIS ONE PARTICULAR COMMUNITY IN RHODE ISLAND?

WELL, RHODE ISLAND IS ACTUALLY REALLY UNIQUE IN TERMS OF THE CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT IN RHODE ISLAND HAS A UNIQUE FOCUS ON FAMILIES, AND A PARTICULARLY UNIQUE FOCUS ON CHILDREN.

AND SO THEY HAVE THESE VISITING HOURS YOU SEE IN THE FILM THAT ARE REALLY KIND OF UNPRECEDENTED ACROSS THE COUNTRY IN TERMS OF THE CHILDREN COME IN TO A SPACE THAT IS BUILT FOR KIDS.

IT HAS ALL THE PAINTINGS ON THE WALLS AND THEY HAVE GAMES AND WRESTLING MATS AND BALLS THAT THEY CAN THROW AROUND, AND THEY DON'T COME IN WITH ANOTHER ADULT GUARDIAN.

SO THEY GET ONE-ON-ONE TIME WITH HER PARENT TO REALLY STRENGTHEN AND BUILD A BOND, THAT THAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT FOR THE CHILDREN AND ALSO FOR THE PARENTS.

AND PART OF THE UNIQUENESS ALSO IS THAT RHODE ISLAND IS SO SMALL THAT IT'S EVEN IF YOU LIVE ACROSS THE STATE, IT MIGHT ONLY BE A 45-MINUTE DRIVE TO SEE YOUR PARENT, WHEREAS OF COURSE IN NEW YORK IT'S UP TO TEN HOURS DRIVING TO SEE YOUR PARENT.

AND WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE ACCESS TO TRANSPORTATION, THAT CAN BECOME VERY DIFFICULT.

YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO SEE YOUR PARENT FOR A LONG TIME.

OF COURSE, YOU MENTIONED THE THREE CHILDREN, HOW THEY'RE SO DIFFERENT.

WE'RE INTRODUCED TO TRE, MASON, AND DASAN.

HOW DID YOU COME ACROSS THE YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE STORIES?

MAISON CAME UP TO ME IN THE VISITING HOURS.

I'M A NEW FACE.

PEOPLE HADN'T SEEN ME BEFORE, AND HE FOUND OUT I WAS MAKING THIS FILM.

HE CAME UP AND SAID I HEARD YOU'RE MAKING A MOVIE. LYOU'RE . WE MADE A SHORT FILM AND HIS PRODUCTION COMPANY WAS A PRODUCER ON THAT BEFORE WE CONTINUED TO MAKE THE SHORT FILM.

AND THEN TRE I MET THROUGH THE SOCIAL WORKERS.

HE HAD ACTUALLY JUST STARTED SEEING HIS DAD AGAIN WHEN I FIRST MET HIM.

AND THEY POINTED HIM OUT AS A POTENTIAL PARTICIPANT FOR THE FILM BECAUSE OF HIS AGE, BECAUSE OF HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS FATHER, AND, YOU KNOW, WE WENT TO THE MALL THE FIRST TIME WE HUNG OUT AND JUST REALLY GREW A BOND BETWEEN US.

AND I'M STILL VERY CLOSE WITH ALL THREE OF THE KIDS.

AND THEN STEPHANIE AND DASN, I GOT ACCESS TO THE WOMEN'S PRISON.

STEPHANIE WAS RELEASED VERY SHORTLY AFTER I MET THEM.

SO SHE GETS OUT AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM AND YOU SEE HER PROCESS OF REENTRY WITH DASAN.

AND SO WITHIN THE FILM, EVEN DEALING WITH TRE'S STORY, WHICH IS YOU GOT AN AMAZING AMOUNT OF ACCESS TO HIS LIFE THROUGH HIS EYES.

AND YOU NOTICE THAT WHEN A PARENT IS INCARCERATED, WHO BECOMES THE UCHILD'S MAIN CARETAKER CAN SOMETIMES BE UP IN THE AIR.

WE SEE THAT WITH MAISON WHERE IT'S NOT EXACTLY CLEAR WHERE HE IS GOING TO BE STAYING LONG-TERM.

AND WE SEE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS THAT ARISE IN TRE'S HOME LIVES AS WELL.

CARETAKERS ARE REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT.

AND AGAIN, A OVERLOOKED POPULATION.

THERE IS NOT A LOT OF SUPPORT OUT THERE FOR CARETAKERS.

FOR MEN WHO ARE INCARCERATED, THE CHILD'S MOTHER IN MOST CASES WOULD BE THE CARETAKER.

FOR WOMEN THAT ARE INCARCERATED, IT'S USUALLY GRANDPARENTS.

SOMETIMES DADS, BUT USUALLY GRANDPARENTS.

SO GRANDPARENTS BECOME REALLY HUGE IN A LOT OF THESE SITUATIONS.

AND YOU SEE THAT IN THE FILM.

MAISON LIVES WITH HIS GRANDMOTHER.

AND WHILE DASAN'S MOM WAS INCARCERATED, HE LIVED WITH HIS GRANDPARENTS.

AND TRE LIVES WITH HIS MOM AT HOME.

AND THEN SOME KIDS GO INTO FOSTER CARE AS WELL.

I DID WANT TO CIRCLE BACK TO SOME OF THE EMOTION OF THE FILM.

JUST EVEN FROM THE VERY BEGINNING OF THIS FILM WE SEE THE KIDS IN THE VISITING CENTER, AND TRE, WHO SORT OF -- HE IS A 13-YEAR-OLD.

HE BUILDS HIMSELF UP, BUT HE IS 13.

AND YET YOU SEE AS SOON AS HE SEES HIS FATHER, THIS HARD EXTERIOR HE PROBABLY HAS BUILT UP IN HIS REGULAR LIFE MELTS AWAY, AND HE SOBS LIKE A BABY WITH HIS DAD.

AND THAT REALLY HAPPENED EVERY WEEK WHEN I FIRST MET TRE.

AND THAT'S ONE THING THAT REALLY DREW ME TO HIM AND HIS STORY IS JUST KIND OF TACKLING ALL OF THOSE EMOTIONS AND REALLY TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WHERE THEY WERE COMING FROM AND REALLY WHAT THAT WAS FOR HIM.

AND, YEAH, YOU FOLLOW THESE EMOTIONS AND HIS FATHER'S EMOTIONS TOO THROUGH THE COURSE OF THE FILM.

I THINK IT'S PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO SEE TRE AND HIS FATHER EXPRESSING THE EMOTIONS, BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, TRE IS ONE OF THE MORE CHALLENGING KIDS IN TERMS OF HIS BEHAVIOR OUT ON THE STREETS AND GETTING INTO TROUBLE AND HE HAS AN ANKLE MONITOR ON AT ONE POINT IN THE FILM.

SO THERE IS A LOT OF THINGS THAT PEOPLE MIGHT THINK ABOUT KIDS LIKE TRE, PARTICULARLY IN THE CLASSROOM WHEN TEACHERS ARE DEALING WITH A CHILD THAT IS DEALING WITH SOME BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS.

SO I FELT IT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO BE ABLE TO SEE TRE'S EMOTIONS AND FOR TRE TO BE ABLE TO SHARE THOSE WITH US AS THE AUDIENCE.

AND ALSO, IN THE STORY OF DASAN AND HIS MOM, AT ONE POINT, HER PAROLE OFFICER COMES TO THE HOUSE, AND WE SEE HER ASKING, YOU KNOW, DON'T SAY THE J WORD.

AS IN JAIL.

HOW MUCH THE KIDS REALLY UNDERSTAND.

WE SEE THAT WITH SOME OF THE OLDER KIDS.

BUT DASAN DIDN'T HAVE A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF WHERE HIS MOM WENT.

YEAH, AND THAT'S ACTUALLY REALLY COMMON FOR PARENTS TO SAY, ESPECIALLY IF THEY'RE ON A SHORTER SENTENCES, BECAUSE OF THE STIGMA INVOLVED.

NOT ONLY THE SHAME THE PARENT MIGHT HAVE FOR BEING INCARCERATED, BUT THEY KNOW THERE IS A STIGMA IN CLASSROOMS AND THE COMMUNITY IF YOU HAVE A PARENT IN PRISON.

SO THEY'LL SAY OH, I'M WORKING UPSTATE, OR I'M IN THE MILITARY.

I'M IN COLLEGE.

AND SO DASAN'S MOM HAD TOLD HIM AND HIS LITTLE COUSIN OLIVIA, WHO IS ALSO IN THE FILM THAT SHE WAS AWAY AT A SPECIAL SCHOOL FOR GROWN-UPS.

SO THAT'S REALLY WHERE HE THOUGHT SHE WAS FOR TWO YEARS.

AND HE WAS 6.

SO, YOU KNOW, HE IS A BIT YOUNGER, AND HE WANTS TO BELIEVE HIS MOM.

BUT ONE THING THAT ESPECIALLY THE SOCIAL WORKERS REALLY TRY AND TELL PARENTS IS KIDS ARE GOING TO FIND OUT.

AND SO IS IT BETTER FOR THEM TO FIND OUT FROM YOU OR IS IT BETTER FOR THEM TO FIND OUT FROM SOMEONE THAT MIGHT BE A CLASSMATE, A PEER.

IT MIGHT BE SOMEONE IN THE FAMILY TALKING THAT THEY OVERHEAR.

AND THAT CAN REALLY SHATTER ANY TRUST THEY HAD WITH YOU, AND THEY'RE PROBABLY ALREADY DEALING WITH TRUST ISSUES IF YOU'VE GONE AWAY FOR SOME REASON.

THAT WAS A REALLY IMPORTANT CONVERSATION TO HAVE IN THE FILM AS WELL, JUST TO HELP PARENTS THAT MIGHT BE SEEING THE FILM FIRST OF ALL KNOW THAT IT'S OKAY, THAT DASAN AND HIS MOM HAD ACTUALLY STRENGTHENED THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION.

AND ALSO, THE LANGUAGE THAT STEPHANIE WAS USING.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT A TIME-OUT IS?

I WAS IN A GROWN-UP TIME-OUT.

AND USING LANGUAGE THAT KIDS THAT AGE CAN REALLY UNDERSTAND AND CONNECT WITH SO IT'S NOT SUCH A BIG SCARY THING, BUT IT'S SOMETHING THEY CAN FEEL COMFORTABLE ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT, AND KNOWING THAT IT DOESN'T AFFECT THEIR PARENTS' ABILITY TO PARENT OR THEIR LOVE THAT THEY HAVE FOR EACH OTHER.

YEAH, OF COURSE.

THAT'S A REALLY IMPORTANT THING FOR KIDS TO BE ABLE TO HAVE.

WELL, LIKE I SAID, IT'S AN INCREDIBLY POWERFUL FILM, AND IT'S FROM A GROUP OR A POPULATION THAT WE OFTEN HEAR ABOUT, BUT WE RARELY HEAR FROM.

SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING THIS FILM.

THANK YOU.

'TRE MASON DASAN' PREMIERS MONDAY, APRIL 1 AT 10:00 P.M.

CHECK YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS FOR ADDITIONAL AIR TIMES AND STREAMING OPPORTUNITIES.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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