The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Film explores theme of motherhood in prison

NATALIA BAAGE PHOTO

Tanika, the only woman of five featured in “Mothers of Bedford” who is still incarcerated, and her son.

 
By NATALIA BAAGE-LORD

Even though many people pass the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women every day, students in the Bedford Central School District said that they never gave too much thought to what happens on the other side of the gates.

On Wednesday, April 25, the community was treated to a screening of “Mothers of Bedford,” a film by Connecticut-based director Jenifer McShane, at Fox Lane High School. The film follows five women inside the prison and displays the relationship between incarcerated mothers and their children, and the prison’s Children’s Center that facilitates the interaction.

“Generally, as a high school student, you tend to not really think about what goes on in prison, and I’m enlightened by the film,” said Matthew Solowey, a senior at Fox Lane High School.

“It was nice to see a different side of the prison,” said Sarah Van Tilburg, who is also a high school senior. “It’s different from what we see on reality television.”

Ms. McShane wanted to tell the story about mothers in prison having a loving relationship with their families, regardless of their situation. Eighty percent of women in prison have school-age children, she said. Ms. McShane spent from 2006 to 2011 capturing the women’s experiences in order for audiences to feel like they were really connected to the women and understood their stories.

“My goal was to provide a glimpse into what the humanity is there and to humanize the situation,” said Ms. McShane. “I hope that the kids learn that these are real people behind bars. These women are more than their crimes. They are mothers — they love somebody and somebody loves them. It’s important to think who is behind bars. I want the students to be aware of what is happening in their own town.”

Ms. McShane said that she felt compelled to make a film showing the stories of women who do not get their stories told enough. The public is consistently given a one-dimensional look of prison on TV, she said, and that is mostly the only reality of prison that people are seeing.

The film follows Tanika, Mona, Anneathia, Melissa and Rosa throughout their incarceration. Tanika is in jail for second-degree murder, and is the only one still incarcerated. After a man in a bar was spewing racial slurs in her direction, he jumped in front of her as she was leaving, and she stabbed him in the neck with a knife in self-defense.

At 19, Mona was in the passenger seat of a car that caused a hit-and-run accident. High on angel dust, she awoke cuffed to a hospital bed, not remembering what happened. She refused a plea deal for less than five years because she said that it was “a lifetime” away from her young children. She opted to go to court, and ended up serving 23 years in prison.

Anneathia was in prison for second-degree murder after shooting and stabbing a man. Melissa was involved in attempted second-degree armed robbery. Rosa was in prison for manslaughter in the first degree.

“I think it’s good that the prison is doing programs for the kids,” said high school senior Katy Mooney, “because it’s not fair that kids should have to suffer for what their parents did to end up in prison.”

Ms. McShane visited the prison on several days when it held family events, including Mother’s Day. However, for the first time in years, the prison is unable to host their 2012 Mother’s Day event due to a loss of funding. After the screening, a Bedford woman stood up in the theater and asked Bobby Blanchard, a teacher at the Children’s Center, and Jane Silfen, the center’s director, how she could send money so that the event does not disappear for good. While it is too late to reinstate this year’s event, Ms. Silfen said that they can begin saving for next year.

“I think it’s sad that they can’t do some of the programs anymore because of the funding — these are things that keep them going,” said high school senior Morgan Camerik.

“The prison is in our backyard,” school superintendent Dr. Jere Hochman wrote in an email, “and yet very few people are aware of how it operates or what it provides in terms of rehabilitation and support. The movie illustrates the support aspect of that and takes some of the mystery out of the presence of the prison.”

Mary Harrison, a social studies teacher at Fox Lane High School, required her students to see the film at last week’s screening, to learn about empathy and compassion. In class, the students learn about policy issues, and sometimes talk about making punishments worse so that people will not commit crimes again.

“The high school students are still young and they don’t see the victimhood of the prison system, or the other side of what a prisoner’s life is, or what kind of people wind up in prison,” said Ms. Harrison. “They will look at this and their minds will be open to what kind of situations these women are facing.”

The film’s next screenings will occur on May 5 at the Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt, Long Island, and on May 8 at the Anthology Film Archives, located at 32 Second Avenue in New York City. For more information, visit www.mothersofbedford.com.



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May 4, 2012