It’s Criminal: Women Discuss Privilege, Poverty and Injustice in America
Directed by Signe Taylor (2017)
This documentary concerns an innovative program at Dartmouth University in which Dartmouth English students collaborate with female prison inmates to put on a play. The main goal is to acquaint the Dartmouth students with their privileged standing.
All the inmates in the program were arrested for drug-related offenses. One woman pleaded guilty because she couldn’t afford bail and faced an indefinite period of detention before going to trial. Another, who couldn’t make bail, was still waiting for a court date.
All the the prisoners reported a history of severe trauma, both in their family of origin and from abusive partners.
The interactions between the two groups became quite strained when two male Dartmouth students are busted for dealing cocaine (like several of the inmates), have their charge reduced to a misdemeanor (owing to their privileged position as Dartmouth students) and receive community service (in lieu of prison) as a sentence.
The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a public library card.
In the US, it is quite common to see African American girls excluded from school for “insubordination.” The label tends to have a very different meaning for white and Black teachers. It is common for white teachers to misconstrue a Black girl’s distress over heavy family responsibility or bullying as a bad attitude.
In primary school, Black girls are six times more likely than white girls to receive one or more suspensions.
In high school, they are three times more likely than white girls to be suspended.
At all levels, they are three times more likely to be physically restrained.
In high school, they are twice as likely to receive corporal punishment.
In high school, they are three times more likely to be referred to law enforcement.
The suicide rate of Black students of either sex is twice that of white students.
Overall there is growing concern about all US teenagers being stripped of their First and Fourth amendment in public schools. The film refers to a 12-year-old Black girl being forcibly strip searched by her principal for “being too happy.”
The filmmakers interview an African American judge who reveals that sexual abuse and/or neglect is the common denominator for Black girls who end up in the criminal justice system. When they are pushed out of school for “attitude” problems, they are the drop-outs most likely to be assaulted and/or sex trafficked on the street. And despite being the victims of sex trafficking, the girls themselves are targeted for prosecution.
Much of the film was shot in a New York program where teachers receive specialized training in working with traumatized students and employ resource materials openly acknowledging the oppression experienced by African American girls and their families. In an environment free of surveillance, policing and a punitive attitude towards discipline, students learning to de-escalate their anger and openly express their vulnerability.
Public library patrons can view the full film free at Beamafilm.
Last night Māori TV showed the Mask You Live In – a documentary about the constant social pressure boys feel to conform to an arbitrary standard of masculinity – and the deep emotional trauma caused by the experience.
Growing up in western society, the greatest fear most boys experience is that they will be found to be weak or “feminine.” The constant pressure (often via school bullying) they experience to “prove” their masculinity forces them to reject all manner of experiences that are artificially labeled as “feminine,” ie sensitivity, self reflection, emotional closeness and intimacy, etc.
The numerous psychologists, educators, coaches and youth advocates featured in the documentary all note a sudden change in boys around 15-16, causing them to suddenly abandon close friendships with other boys. It’s precisely at the point where emotional expression totally drops out of their language that drug and alcohol use, suicide and gang membership skyrockets.
In my view, the best segments of the film are of all boy’s/all men’s groups in schools and prisons that support members in exploring the deep trauma they have experienced from this immense cultural pressure to “man up.”
The film, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed for free at the Māori TV website:
The following is an eye-opening presentation for Martin Luther King Unity Day. In it, long time political activist Angela Davis explores the roots of the electoral college and the death penalty in slavery. Unlike more mainstream liberals, she doesn’t catastrophize about Trump’s recent electoral victory. Instead she faults both Trump and Clinton for failing to mention even once during the campaign the working class, inequality or climate change.
She goes on to emphasize that it isn’t Martin Luther King as an individual we celebrate, but the thousands of people in the civil rights movement who did the real work. She then highlights the myriad of movements Americans have formed to resist the oppression experienced by the working class Americans. She devotes special focus to the movement to abolish prisons in a country that incarcerates more people (in absolute numbers) than any other country in the world. In her view, the majority of inmates in US prisons have been deeply traumatized in childhood. All incarcerating them accomplishes is to irreparably re-traumatize them.
The goal of the prison abolition movement is to replace prisons with a system of restorative justice,* starting with youth prisons.
Davis starts speaking at 1:09.
*Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. New Zealand, which has no youth prisons, relies on a restorative justice process to deal with juvenile offenders.