Monday, 28 February 2011

When I Die, Please Send Me Home: A Child's Life Without Parole

America is the only country on earth that allows juvenile offenders to be sentenced to Life Without Parole. We have more than 2,500 child lifers - 109 for non-homicide crimes - in 38 states. Some children are simply broken, sociopaths who need to be kept away from society forever. And there are the miscarriages of justice, the kid forced to participate in the horror shows that get people killed, or the kid simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are white and black, girls and boys, rich and poor, from the North as well as the South. They are in New Hampshire and Colorado, Florida and Texas. They are very often in California. This documentary is NOT a piece of hand-wringing advocacy. NOT the "Innocence Project". We are not on a mission to spring the innocent. Both the film and the episodic insist on remaining in the realm of discomfort. We are proposing an uncompromising look at what it is to lock up a kid for life, both the "deserving" and the "undeserving", what that means for the kids, for the adults (and the elderly) who have lived behind bars since childhood. And what it says about us as a nation and a culture that we still wield this form of punishment on the unformed. We will also examine the life of the child behind bars, and be present at that moment when the reality of his existence comes crashing down around him: the realization that this is it. The hopes and dreams are gone. Replaced by confinement. Never to marry, never to date. Never to bear children or raise them. (Remarkable and terrifying fact: many juvenile lifers, upon entering prison, are forced to spend their first years - sometimes as many as a decade - in solitary confinement. Not out of punishment but to ready them to survive the prison's general population. Only when they are hardened are they sent out into the yards.) Also, what gets a child so broken that he is able to put a gun to the back of a man's head and pull the trigger? What of his biology, what of his upbringing? Not to say the killers among them are unjailable or unpunishable, but when a kid under 17 goes away forever, we are, for better or worse, extinguishing a flame. And it is a slow execution. So we are interested in locating, if it is findable, the moment of conception of the mistake, or the pathology. We will follow the lives of some of these kids inside ... and the families -- of the victims and the perpetrators both -- on the outside. Are there alternatives for kids like these? Or do we simply throw them in the box and dispose of them?


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