About this project
"My children were not in the courtroom that day. However, when I received my sentence, they were sentenced as well."
The film begins with Joyce, a woman convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1976 at age 25. Despite the traumas of her past, in prison she found the strength to turn her life around. She became a paralegal to provide legal assistance to the other women in prison, and was the first woman to graduate from the University of Michigan behind bars. After several failed attempts at appeal, she obtained an early release after 17 years and 120 days.
Her children were six and eight years old when she left. Her youngest son graduated from Eastern Michigan University and is now in the Air Force. Her oldest son has been serving a natural life sentence for conspiracy to murder since he was 18 years old.
What causes two brothers from the same household to turn out so differently?
This question inspired Joyce to create a program called Levels of Response to Traumatic Events (LORTE). The program outlines the 5 stages a child goes through when a parent is incarcerated and is designed to teach the children and their families how to effectively cope with the trauma in their lives and overcome the stigma of having a parent in prison.
"LORTE is a tool for resiliency"
Joyce has used her program in her own practice as a social worker, and in 2007 it was implemented into the Rhode Island Department of Corrections to work with incarcerated fathers and their children.
1 in 28 American children has a parent in prison. 10% of those kids will be incarcerated before reaching adulthood. (Women's Prison and Home Association, Inc)
This film takes a closer look at the kids Joyce has been working to help. What do they go through when a parent is incarcerated? How are they treated in the outside world because of their parent's actions and consequences? What are the roles of the families and communities in helping a child cope with the incarceration of his or her parent? How does having a parent in prison become incorporated and accepted into a child's life? How does all of this influence where the child will end up in the future?
I have been working closely with Joyce, the Department of Corrections in Rhode Island, the LORTE program, and with three children whose fathers are prison there: Giana - age 12, Tre - age 13 and Maison - age 10.
For the past 4 months I have been getting to know these three children intimately both inside and outside of the prison. I have driven them to visit their fathers, I have spent time with them in their homes and with their families, laughed with them, cried with them and listened to their stories. These kids come from different communities and situations. They all have dealt with the events in their lives in different ways. Where each one will end up is determined by a wide number of factors involving their communities, schools, and families, all stemming from the same experience - having a parent convicted of a crime and sentenced to time in prison.
Together, and with your support, we will share these stories in order to begin to understand the effects incarceration has not only on the state, taxpayers and communities, but on the families left behind and on the children who will ultimately shape our future.
This is a documentary in two parts. The first is the short film, which is also my thesis project at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the one you will be contributing to over the course of this campaign. This short film will be finished and screened in May. The second is a feature length documentary, inspired by the short film, that follows these kids for a much longer period of time. This second film will depend upon the success of the first, which is why I need your help.
Since I did not put myself in the video, I will introduce myself here! My name is Denali Tiller, I grew up in New Mexico and now live in Providence, Rhode Island. I am an artist, a filmmaker, and a senior in Live Action Filmmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design. I have created, produced and directed many short films working both in film and animation. I have worked for several independent filmmakers, and for PBS Kids in New Mexico. Apart from my studies and my art I have always been passionate about service and I love working with children. The way that I came upon Joyce and her story is nothing short of a miracle - a strange series of seemingly unrelated connections. Something brought us together to make this film, I have fallen in love with these kids, and I am so excited to bring the project to life.
Over the next few months, I will be shooting almost every day, hundreds of hours of video with Joyce, the 3 kids and their families, and the inmates throughout the Department of Corrections in Rhode Island. The deadline for my short documentary film will be to screen at the RISD Senior Show in late May. This deadline is important to me not only as a graduation requirement, but also enables me to take advantage of the resources I have here at school: my professors and my classmates, and the equipment we have available. Most importantly, this deadline means I will not let you down, my backers and supporters, who are making this project possible.
This film is about overcoming obstacles, resiliency, and empowering the young to reach beyond their difficult circumstances. With your help the work can continue, and will enable us to share these stories with the world.
Apart from the equipment expenses such as batteries, hard drives, memory cards and the travel expenses to bring Joyce to Providence from Detroit to meet the families involved, most of my budget is going to hiring crew. I have had a tremendous amount of help from some of my classmates this past semester, but now everyone is busy with their own projects and are no longer available to assist. I need to hire a camera operator and sound person outside of school to be with me at all times that I am shooting. When we are finished shooting, I will also hire an assistant editor to help me sort through footage and arrange the story. After the edit is complete, there are post production expenses such as color correction and sound mixing. On top of all this are the backer rewards, the 5% fee to Kickstarter and the 3%-5% fee to Amazon for processing the payments. All this being said, my campaign goal of $20,000 will be extremely helpful, but will not cover everything I need as you can see from the budget outline below. I can only get the money from Kickstarter if I meet my funding goal, so let's go above and beyond!!
Why is this story important?
"There is no system, there [are] only people, children do not fall through the cracks; they fall through fingers." - Mark Parent, Turning Stones
With so much in the media and on the news about prison, crime, and a failing system, Joyce's story is compelling because she is a woman who not only survived, but was able to turn her life around and use her experiences to help others reach beyond the traumatic situations of their lives. The sons and daughters of incarcerated parents make up a population we don't often hear about, but one that is affected deeply by the choices of others, and one that will continue to shape the system and our society into the future. This is a story I believe needs to be told. It is an issue that Joyce has spent her life's work trying to understand and change. Together, we can take it even further.
Risks and challenges
I have spent the past 5 months working on this project, and I have 5 more to go before the premiere at RISD in May. I have gotten to know Joyce, the families, the children and the inmates so that they are comfortable with me and the presence of the camera in their lives. I have built trust with the people who work at the Department of Corrections and have achieved access for shooting inside the facility. There is tremendous excitement about this film from all involved, and this campaign is the last step in making it all come together. I am prepared to give it everything I have.
Thank you for believing in me, in this film, and most importantly in these kids. I can't wait to show you more!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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