They Call Us Monsters – A Documentary Film Review

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They Call Us Monsters

A Documentary Film Review by Luis Diaz

‘The Call Us Monsters’ is a documentary film in which the filmmakers are granted access to the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar California. It’s a High Security Compound in which we’re introduced to four juvenile inmates: Jarad Nava arrested at 16 and facing 200 years to life for four attempted murders; Juan Gamez arrested at 16 and facing 90 years to life for first degree murder; Antonio Hernandez arrested at 14 and facing 90 years to life for two attempted murders. The four would sign up for a screenwriting class offered up. Darrell Edwards would be the fourth one BUT unbeknownst to him he’ll be sentenced to 15 years in adult prison the very next day after the first day of this class. It’s at this very moment that I cringed knowing what might be in store for him. A life lost to the failed rehabilitative attempts of our penal system.

Surely it’s not hard to fathom why anyone capable of carrying out or attempting murder would be called a monster. But what’s to be done when one’s able to look behind the supposed monstrous façade and find underneath mere children? What’s a society to do? Continue to take a “Lock them up and throw away the key” mentality? Or attempt to reign in a system which for years has sought to prosecute these juveniles as adults? These are subjects which unfortunately the film doesn’t delve into too deeply, but then perhaps that’s the beautiful logic behind its approach; to spend more time acquainting us with these juveniles for the sake of acknowledging and seeing what lies underneath: children, capable of being rehabilitated. Knowing nothing else one can’t imagine these kids being capable of that which they’ve been charged with after witnessing their youthful playfulness on the screen.

I sit with a heavy heart thinking about all the many thousands of lives abandoned through the decades; lives left to a future of recidivism for lack of seeing and knowing the many possibilities and potentials afforded to any free living soul within our country. Not that violent crimes of any sort should be regarded trivially; but the fact stands sure and firm: violent crimes exist. Disregarding this problem as something that would take care of itself is reckless; and we as a society have a responsibility to address the challenge.

Overall, I feel this was a worthy documentary, done as well as was possible considering the circumstances of filming within a juvenile detention facility. Yet I wish those involved could’ve gone just a bit further in explaining what the screenwriting class was all about.

Founded in 1996 and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 1999, InsideOUT Writers’ (IOW) mission is as follow:

The mission of InsideOUT Writers is to reduce the juvenile recidivism rate by providing a range of services that evolves to meet the needs of currently and formerly incarcerated youth and young adults.

Using creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation, these young people are empowered with the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully re-integrate into our communities, becoming advocates for their future.

Executive Producer of this documentary, Scott Budnick along with Producer and Director, Ben Lear are on the Advisory Board of InsideOUT Writers. Mr. Budnick is also a teacher for the nonprofit and would also come to create the Anti-Recidivism Coaltion (ARC) in 2013.

More concerning ARC:

ARC serves more than 300 formerly incarcerated men and women, who commit to living crime-free, gang-free and drug-free; enrolling in school, working or actively searching for work; and being of service to their community and the ARC network. To help members successfully transition back into the community, ARC provides counseling and case management, mentorship opportunities, supportive housing, and employment and education assistance.

Through its unique policy advocacy work, ARC mobilizes and empowers formerly incarcerated individuals and their families to participate in efforts to reform the justice system. ARC’s advocacy model develops members as leaders, amplifies their voice, and increases civic engagement of those most affected by incarceration to improve community health across California.

The success of ARC’s Member Services model is evidenced by the incredibly low recidivism rate of members – less than five percent, compared to California’s recidivism rate of more than 54 percent. ARC’s advocacy and awareness-building efforts have also been exceptionally successful, leading to numerous critical reforms in California’s justice system, including five key pieces of legislation that significantly improved the way the system treats young people.

Yours truly had to do quite a bit of research into the subject and amazingly there is so very much to cover and read over. Too much for a page such as this or for that matter, a documentary like this one. I thought it a good idea to include below just a small fraction of the many items out there.

As put forth in the year 2000 by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs:

Since 1992, 45 states have passed or amended legislation making it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults. The result is that the number of youth under 18 confined in adult prisons has more than doubled in the past decade. This phenomenon is challenging the belief, enshrined in our justice system a century ago, that children and young adolescents should be adjudicated and confined in a separate system focused on their rehabilitation.

https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/182503.pdf

A truly worthy article from the Washington Post which has been reprinted repeatedly in various ways:

Miller, Jerome. “CRIMINOLOGY.” The Washington Post. April 23, 1989. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1989/04/23/criminology/3e8fb430-9195-4f07-b7e2-c97a970c96fe/?utm_term=.f3f019351ce7.

Plus other important sources/references:

Capital Punishment for Juveniles in US

When Juveniles Are Tried in Adult Criminal Court

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Juvenile Justice

National Criminal Justice Reference System

IOW InsideOUT Writers

ARC Anti-Recidivism Coalition

Directed by:

Ben Lear

Producers:

Gabriel Cowan, Sasha Alpert & Ben Lear

Executive Producers:

Jonathan Murray, Gil Goldschein, Todd Rubenstein, Scott Budnick & Ted  Dintersmith

Co Producers:

Ella Hatamian & Chip Warren

Editor:

Eli Despres

Original Music Composed By:

Ari Balouzian

Director Of Photography:

Nicholas Wiesnet

www.theycallusmonsters.com / @TCUMonstersDoc

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