Monday, May 22, 2017

"They Call Us Monsters": juveniles charged as adults for violent crimes learn screenwriting in a California prison

On Monday, May 22, 2017, PBS aired “They Call Us Monsters”, directed by Ben Lear, a documentary about the growing trend to try juveniles with violent offenses as adults.
The film starts with a depiction of a juvenile case in 1976, and moves to the 1990s when Newt Gingrich says that if you commit an adult crime, you’re an adult.

Then it moves to a high security facility in a desert area in California where an English and screenwriting teacher, Gabe, himself about 30, comes to the jail and shows them how to write a 10-minute screenplay which he will fund and shoot for a festival.  These are all kids facing life sentences for murder.

Gabe starts by creating hooks, by asking the kids to write down five fears.

Gradually, scenes from the developing screenplay mix with real videotape of the teens being arrested.

The cases for some of the kids, especially Jarad, progress in court. Curiously, the subject of tattoos, in conjunction with gangs, comes up. 

Then the documentary moves to state legislatures where the debate gets into the area of the teen brain, as immature and not able to see around corners, as Dr. Phil has explained.  But “evil” is possible, and it’s clear that parenting (and many other factors) cause some teen boys to develop “moral” maturity much earlier in life than others. There is a tremendous variation in the rate of brain maturity achievement. Some specialists say that too much screen time or lack of social interaction in the real world will delay brain growth.

One of the legislators weighs recognizing the victims against the biological immaturity of the teen perpetrators.

In the final scene, Jarad (a teen father) is sentenced to 160 years to life. 
The official site is here

PBS followed with a short film "Facing Life" by Dan Birman, depicting a convict named Cyntoia, a model prisoner, now 28, with 39 years more to serve. The film says there is "no endgame".  I thought the feature could have mentioned chess in prison. 

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