The Essex Community Justice Center next week will host a free showing of a new documentary film that shares the stories of Vermont children with parents who have gone to prison.
The hour-long film, “Downstream: The Effects of Parental Incarceration,” will be shown at the local theatre on Tuesday, May 7 at 6:30 p.m. It was produced by director Brad Salon, of Bradford, and the Lamoille Justice Center’s Resilience Beyond Incarceration program.
Tricia Long, the program’s director, said she dreamed of producing such a film since beginning her work at the center in 2003. She hoped the film would increase awareness around this “invisible population” of children.
“From the very moment I started working with these kids, I recognized that their stories needed to be told,” Long said.
The film features interviews with state officials, educators, a medical professional and nearly a dozen children who have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives. A 2015 report from Essex CJC director Jill Evans, who was the director of the Department of Corrections’ Women and Family Services at the time, found that an estimated 6,000 children in Vermont experience parental incarceration – about 1 out of every 17 kids.
According to the report, these children are at increased risk of behavioral and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, delinquency and substance abuse. And families with a parent in prison often find themselves in dire financial situations, if they weren’t already, putting children at higher risk of homelessness and food insecurity. “Because of the stigma, these children often aren’t identified or given the sort of help children who lose a parent for another reason,” Long said. “We can all play a part in supporting these kids and their caregivers, and I hoped that the film would move hearts and minds to become imaginative and creative about helping to solve this problem.”
Children whose parents take part in the Resilience Beyond Incarceration program are more likely to stay in school and less likely to be convicted of a crime later in life, Long said. The program supports families through every aspect of the criminal justice system: supporting the family from the moment the parent is arrested to the day they re-enter the community.
Long said state and federal leaders could better address the issue by passing criminal justice reform and better policies around visitation and communication between children and their incarcerated parents. But she said local communities can play a role, too, from acts as simple as letting children interact and play with other children whose parents aren’t in prison.
“In your community, what is your opinion of people who become incarcerated?” she asked. The film’s showing in Essex comes amid a tour of the state following a sold-out premiere in Montpelier last month.
Long said all the children in the film were given an option to back out up at any time, but all said they wanted to do the film if it would help someone else in their situation.
“We as community members could return that by watching this film and allowing ourselves to be moved,” Long said. “When the audiences talk afterward they talk about how powerful it is and how they had no idea and that watching this movie has changed them in some way.”
“When you put a face to this, you see that there is suffering here,” she continued. “Kids should not be made to suffer because of something that their parent did. We as a society can’t afford to ignore this.”
For more information about the film, including future screenings, visit www.downstreamfilm.com.