2017, Documentary, 103'
Script/Director: Léa Pool
Catpics AG: Alfi Sinniger & Sarah Born
In coproduction with:
Cinémaginaire, Canada &
Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen/Switzerland
If women are sentenced to serve time in prison, the children depending on them also suffer. In four locations – Nepal, Québec, Bolivia and the USA, Léa Pool’s documentary tells the story of children, whose lives are impacted by incarceration: they are robbed of their primary caregiver, are shunned by their communities, and have to deal with judicial systems that are ill equipped to protect children’s rights. Double sentence lends a voice to those children but also allows their parents and social workers to have their say.
The NGO Prisoners’ Assistance (PA) Nepal takes care of almost 500 children of imprisoned parents in several shelters all over the country.Indira Rana Magar is the kind but determined manager of one of these shelters. Accompanied by a small group of children she visits the women’s prison of Kathmandu: They talk about how the children are doing at school, they exchange presents – while the children are separated from their mothers by metal bars. Laughter and tears follow in quick succession. During this visit, Indira will take three new children, who have so far lived with their mothers in prison, back to the shelter. Not all of the mothers give up their children willingly but this is their only chance to receive an education. The children are often traumatised and behave ambivalently, says Indira. They are aggressive, fight over food, wish to return to their mothers – and at the same time they treasure immensely the support they receive from PA Nepal.
There is also ambivalence in the reactions of sisters Karolyne-Joanny (9) and Audrey-Kym (8) in Québec to their mother’s one-year sentence for drug-related theft. The elder of the two tells her mother off every time they speak on the phone, yet she already dreams of what they will do upon her release next summer. The sisters now live in a patchwork family with their father, his new partner and five more half and step siblings. After five months, their first reunion takes place in the gym of the detention center. Here, the inmates can hug their children and move freely – at least for a few hours. Martine Flamand, coordinator of CFAD (Continuité famille auprès des détenues), strives to preserve the bond between imprisoned parents and their children – this is not a privilege but a fundamental right, she insists. An initiative designed by the organisation to strengthen the relationship is a 24-hour trailer visit where children can stay overnight with their mother.
In Bolivia, maintaining the parental relationship is also significant – approximately 2100 children live with their parents in prison. Isaac (8) is one of them. During the day he goes to school and to a special day care centre for children of imprisoned parents, in the evening he returns to his mother in prison. Isaac seems content in his routine. His social worker believes that as long as children are not separated from their mothers, they won’t be traumatised. Allison (14) used to live with her mother Jeanette behind bars for ten years. Recently, the implementation of a new law makes it more difficult for parents and their children to live together in prison. During the week, Allison now has to live in the children’s home of Cochabamba and only sees her mother at weekends. Tears stream down her face as she tells of this separation.
In the USA, Andrea (15) has difficulty coping with her mother Suzette’s lengthy prison term. The Osborne Association in New York offers a space for children of imprisoned parents to meet and support each other. It also offers the so-called “televisiting programme”, a live video link with their imprisoned parents. Even though Suzette is serving her sentence far away in the proximity of the Canadian border, thanks to this programme, Andrea can talk to her and see her on the giant video screen. Because a group of female inmates at the Albion Correctional Facility successfully completed a parenting training programme, the Osborne Association flies their children – including Andrea – there for a day visit. Some of them haven’t seen their mothers in as much as seven years. For the informal graduation ceremony, the inmates are allowed to swap their green prison uniform with a purple graduation gown and cap. True to American tradition, they toss their graduation caps into the air – but the visiting room’s low ceiling cuts their trajectory very short.
During the film, Pool inserts in regular intervals a total of seven demands, such as “I have a right to support during my parents’ imprisonment”, or “I have the right to speak with, to see and to touch my parent.” The film thus delivers a strong manifesto for the rights of children of imprisoned women.