Tag Archive for It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

An Audio Interview with director Alan Swyer

Welcome to our latest Humane Exposures audiocast! Today we sit down with director Alan Swyer, who directed our own feature length documentary, It’ More Expensive to Do Nothing, as well as The Buddy Holly Story, Beisbol, and more.

About Alan Swyer

Alan Swyer has been a faculty member at the American Film Institute, the University of Southern California, and Pepperdine University, and now teaches at Chapman University.  Internationally, he has given seminars on writing and directing in both France and Singapore.  Mr. Swyer studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris and speaks fluent French.

As a filmmaker, he has worked as writer, director, and/or producer on projects ranging from our own It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing to HBO’s award winning Rebound; The Buddy Holly Story; Alfred Hitchcock Presents; and his award-winning documentary The Spiritual Revolution.  Among his other work is Beisbol, the winner of the 2009 Imagen Award for best feature-length documentary, which is the definitive look at Latin baseball—its origins, lore and impact upon the game today with narration by Andy Garcia. Beisbol just screened at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Coooperstown; and Leimert Park, about a black cultural mecca in Los Angeles. He has also directed assorted music and video and commercials, and produced the NBC special entitled The Diabetes Epidemic: Challenges & Breakthroughs.

Mr. Swyer served as film critic for the Hollywood Reporter, as well as being a frequent contributor to Britain’s Blues & Rhythm.  He has produced albums including a Ray Charles compilation of love songs and has written liner notes for CDs ranging from The Best of Big Joe Turner, to The Fiftieth Anniversary of Doo-Wop, and Ray Charles & Betty Carter.

Mr. Swyer is also an activist of note, having created, in conjunction with the LA County Probation Department and the Juvenile Judiciary of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Teen Court, which has had remarkable success as an “intervention” for the first-time juvenile offenders.  In addition, he is a Board Member of the Compton Baseball Academy, whose purpose is to get at-risk youth off the streets and onto the playing field.

The Economics of Incarceration in Arizona

MoneyThe economic side of the penal system is something we look at a lot. In so many cases, the return of preventative programs vastly outstrips the return we see from imprisoning people. Our documentary is titled It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing because that is, quite simply, the case.

Of course, there are also darker sides of the economic angle that bear scrutiny. When we speak of the economic factors, we are talking about ways in which to spend less and achieve better results. For some others, it is a matter of how much can be made from the business of incarceration.

Laura Sullivan has a very illuminating piece on NPR (you can read it or listen to the audio) focusing on this very subject. She takes a look at the spiderweb of business interests that stand to reap serious financial gains from Arizona’s new immigration law. [Note: this is not a debate about the law itself, but an examination of the way in which the prison industry has influenced the letter of the law for its financial gain. Comments debating immigration law will be considered off topic and not published.]

While there has been both forceful opposition and support for the law, it would behoove both sides to look closer at the way the law came about. NPR did some digging:

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry. The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

What follows is a hard look at the influence of lobbyists. It starts with the Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, who claims the bill was his idea. His stated stance is that Americans need to look at the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing the border. The interesting part is that instead of bringing his idea up on the Senate floor, he instead brought it to a meeting of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that took place last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C.

If you look at the composition of the group, an interesting picture develops:

It’s a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

Both members of the Corrections Corporation of America and Pearce are not only members but also sit on several of ALEC’s boards. Model legislation was developed at the Hyatt, legislation that was adopted almost verbatim four months later. Pearce claims that even though lobbyists were in attendance, he did not go to meet with them, but rather to meet with other legislators:

Pearce may go there to meet with other legislators, but 200 private companies pay tens of thousands of dollars to meet with legislators like him.

As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol. According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.

That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.

This is an economic angle that we need to watch. There is no way to fight the bloating of our prison system without realizing that this is big business. There are so many jobs and so much money wrapped up in the penal system that it’s truly frightening. The approach to imprisonment being taken in Arizona and many other places seems to view an increase in the number of people incarcerated as a good thing, since, after all, it creates jobs and salaries. The fact that it costs taxpayers far more than the alternatives does not enter into that kind of logic.

This is not merely a problem in the areas near the border when immigration is such a massive issue. On the first of last month, I wrote about the astounding and disturbing state of affairs in Canon City, CO, the town with 13 prisons. Just to put it into perspective, Canon City has 36,000 residents, which makes it roughly one prison per 2,700 people. Sounds like big business to me, especially since one of those 13 is the Supermac, the new “Alcatraz of America.”

It does not matter whether this happens in Arizona, Colorado, or some other state. The fact remains that we have 5% of the global population and roughly a quarter of the world’s incarcerated here in the U.S.A. If the trend of embracing the corrections system as a revenue-generating business continues, those numbers will become even more out of balance.

So, as the prison system in Arizona hits a major growth spurt, I’d like to leave you with two short quotes to keep in mind:

‘When we provide treatment, we can cut recidivism rates down 25, 35, sometimes 40 percent.’
– Douglas B. Marlowe, J.D., Ph.D., Chief of Science, Policy and Law, National Association of Drug Court Professionals

and

‘It makes long term economic sense to try and take care of these people in a humane way, and help them heal.’
– Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Child Trauma Academy

Source: “Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law,” NPR, 10/28/10
Image by AMagill, used under its Creative Commons license.
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Debtors’ Prisons: Feeding a Vicious Cycle of Recidivism

Money macroPicture an inmate at the end of his sentence. The barred gates of the jail open up, and he steps out into the fresh air of freedom. Let’s assume this is an inmate who has been wholeheartedly reformed, kicked his bad habits, and has a determined attitude about rebuilding his life.

Then the bill comes. Not the rent or the bill for utilities, but a bill for the legal fees incurred, plus fines. Suddenly, that inmate ends up back in prison through no fault of his own except for lack of resources.

This is the picture presented by Charlene Muhammad of the New America Media as she examines the new findings presented by the ACLU:

After a year long investigation into the assessment and collection of fees associated with criminal sentences in Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, and Washington, the ACLU reported in ‘In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons,’ that courts across the U.S. were profiting from debtors’ prisons by violating a Supreme Court decision ordering courts to investigate a person’s inability to pay before returning them to prison.

Since the poor and the minorities are disproportionately represented in the average jail population, this raises a number of disturbing issues. Since Muhammad’s article is quite long (and is highly recommended, by the way), we’re going to focus on one of the people she has interviewed, Geri Silva.

Silva is the director of Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes Law, and she raises many valid points. For on thing, in a country where right to counsel is axiomatic, the idea of making everyone pay the fees and fines irrespective of their financial means is ridiculous. That right to counsel exists to protect those who have no means:

[Silva] said the irony is that states are jailing people in ‘cash-strapped’ cities for failing to pay their legal fines, but turn around and pay triple or quadruple that amount to put people in jail.

‘It sort of leads one to believe that perhaps jails and prisons are money making enterprises for the states. All roads lead to prison and all thinking leads to the fact that if they’re filling these prisons, it’s not about public safety obviously but it has to have something to do with financial gain for the industry itself,’ Ms. Silva said.

[Silva] reiterated ‘In For a Penny’s’ position that men and women who are re-entering into society from prison already face tough obstacles. They have to try to rebuild their lives with reduced or no incomes, worsening credit ratings, poor housing prospects, and greater chances of recidivism.

Think back to the hypothetical inmate: Will he make it out of the jail with that same attitude after this, or will it kill the idea that he can be a productive member of society? After all, he’d played by the rules, and through no fault of his own ended up in prison again. How would you feel?

Muhammad writes,

‘How far will they go? Who are they trying to kid with this? How do you get blood out of a turnip? How does somebody who can’t pay, pay? Will they then find the one person who had their nails done or something instead of paying? Is that what they’re going to do to justify this insanity,’ Ms. Silva asked.

According to Ms. Silva, all of these issues that hang over a poor person who has been incarcerated stems from America’s building an industry that is skewed, sinister, uncivilized, and centered on punishment. Ask taxpayers if they would rather pay $600 in legal fees or thousands in jail costs and they would pick the more sensible route of less costs, she said.

Which brings us back to one of our recurring themes: It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. Once more, the imbalance between taxpayer expenditure for jail costs is staggering compared to the cost of defraying these fees. As taxpayers, we would love to know that our taxes are not only being deployed to an effective program, but also that they are being reduced due to that program’s efficacy. It is, as they say, a no-brainer.

Consider the massive amount of cash it takes to run a jail or prison. Think about the cost of everything, from guards to food to laundry, but also about the number of staff needed to ensure a smooth operation of the facility.

Let’s close with one more remark from Silva:

‘The industry itself is tremendous. Can you imagine what it takes to run, say, California State Prisons in terms of food services, clothing, armaments, initially the building trades? It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that a great number of people are getting fat off of so it’s so disingenuous for them to say they’re losing money because people aren’t paying their fees,’ Ms. Silva added.

Should we be paying for this, or should we demand fiscal responsibility and a new approach?

Source: “Report: Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons Devastating the Poor,” New America Media, 10/20/10
Image by Kevin Dooley, used under its Creative Commons license
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The Second Chance Women’s Re-Entry Court: Choosing Treatment Over Incarceration

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeJudge Michael Tynan’s fourth-floor courtroom in downtown L.A.’s Criminal Courts building is in our spotlight today. It’s a room that’s usually packed with people that are often discarded by society: the addicts, the mentally ill or disadvantaged, the homeless, and, more recently, the female parolees.

Victoria Kim, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, writes:

The Los Angeles County Superior Court judge oversees a number of programs known as collaborative or problem-solving courts, designed to address the underlying issues — addictions, mental health, poverty — that lead to repeated arrests and prison terms.

For this, we applaud Judge Tynan. One of the biggest flaws of the current system is that it’s like an over-the-counter medicine that treats the symptoms but often not the ailment itself. This pattern of issues has an amazing impact on the lives of those who experience them firsthand, almost always to their own detriment as well as the society’s. Tynan has a solid understanding of this, and has steadily worked to address these social ills.

Kim brings us a thumbnail view of Tynan’s most recent program, a three-year-old effort that aims to help transition women inmates to appropriate treatment rather than use traditional incarceration:

Since 2007, Tynan has been running the Second Chance Women’s Re-entry Court program, one of the first in the nation to focus on women in the criminal justice system. Through the court, women facing a return to state prison for nonviolent felonies plead guilty to their crimes and enter treatment instead.

Although women make up only a small fraction of prison inmates, their numbers have been climbing for decades at a far steeper rate than men’s. Women are also more likely to be convicted of nonviolent drug or property crimes motivated by addictions or necessity.

As a publisher, we have examined these underlying factors and their influence on the individual and on society. Our award-winning documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, addresses them, and looks at both the social and financial cost of not going after the root causes.

Tynan’s work is yet another proof that our assertions are correct. The women in this program are housed in a Pomona drug treatment facility for women called Prototypes. If accepted, the women live there for six months while their schedules are filled with job-skills classes, therapy, support-group meetings, and  chores. Incarcerated mothers and their children are reunited, and the mothers both undergo counseling and attend parenting classes. Pretty comprehensive, isn’t it?

Let’s take a look at Kim’s article once more and evaluate the cost factor:

The treatment, currently funded through a grant from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and donated services from Prototypes, costs about $18,000 for each woman per year. But compared with keeping them in prison and their children in foster care for years, the state is saving millions of dollars, the program’s organizers say.

All of our studies indicate that this is not a fluke, but rather is representative of the savings that can generally be attained once a more proactive social stance is adopted. In short, if we fix the societal ills that lead to incarceration or recidivism directly, it will have more impact for less monetary expenditure than simple imprisonment. Remember, it really is more expensive to do nothing!

Source: “Court program helps women turn their lives around,” The Los Angeles Times, 10/18/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.

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“It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing” Wins Second Place at Bayou City Inspirational Film Fest

It's More Expensive to Do Nothing - A documentary form Humane Exposures Films

Click on the image for larger size

HUMANE EXPOSURES films is proud to announce that It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, our documentary about the flaws in our penal system and their possible solutions, has taken second place at the Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival (BCIFF) in Houston, TX.

We would like to thank everyone who has attended the festival, and everyone who has shown us support so far! Each one of you is an important part of the process as we work towards change, so thank you all!

The BCIFF is presented by the PROGRESS Arts Group, a nonprofit arts and education organization. Here is a little bit about the festival:

The Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival (BCIFF) was founded by its executive director, Shanda Davis, to showcase diverse film and video projects that:

* Educate and enlighten us on political, social, psychological, economic, health, religious, and a variety of other issues,
* Offer hope and encouragement as well as inspire us to contribute towards the betterment of society and
* Display positive relationships, morals, individual, and family values.

The Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival’s mission is:

* To provide a viable platform for independent filmmakers and artists from around the world to showcase their works,
* To provide awareness to the world about the variety of educational, inspirational and positive works available and the need to integrate more of these types of works into society,
* To provide a networking platform for filmmakers and industry professionals and
* To showcase the artistic excellence of children & youth in Houston and surrounding areas and provide scholarships to assist them in furthering their arts education.

For those of you who have yet to see the film, here is the trailer:

If our film hit home, or even if you just have an interest in this issue, please take a moment and share it with a few of your friends. The wider audience we can reach the better chance we have of not only alleviating the trials of those stuck in the vicious cycle, but also doing it in a way that reduces the cost to society and government. It truly is much more expensive to do nothing!

Source: “The Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival,” BCIFF Website
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the HUMANE EXPOSURES films documentary “It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing.” Used with permission.
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Humane Exposures: The Beginning

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Someone looking at our books and our film for the first time might as well ask how we got started down this particular path.

The roots of Humane Exposures go back 15 years and begin with Susan Madden Lankford’s interactions with the homeless. Having managed a successful portrait studio for years, she has decided that she wanted to do more. Renting the Seaport Village Jail, she then began photographing the homeless and collecting their narratives. Since many of those had involved incarceration, it was only natural that Lankford’s next step be touring the seven main jails in the area.

That tour brought her to Las Colinas, the county’s only all-women jail. It was then that Lankford has realized that prison reform is urgently needed, and decided to share the inmate’s situation with a the public in hopes of spurring that reform.

Mark Arner, a reporter for The San Diego Union Tribune, reported on the resulting book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes (also on Facebook) back when it was released in 2008:

Thirteen years ago, an inmate at the county’s only all-female jail said something startling to San Diego photographer Susan Madden Lankford.

‘Hey Susan, I have something to tell you: I found maggots in my sweet potatoes last week,’ Lankford said the inmate told her.

While her subsequent tour of the jail’s kitchen facilities revealed only clean surfaces and safe food, that one comment stuck with Lankford and became the title of the book. Here is Arner’s brief description of the book from the same article:

The 284-page book describes how Lankford obtained Kolender’s permission for the project in the mid-1990s. Primarily in 1995 and 1996, she conducted interviews and took black-and-white photographs of inmates, guards and jail overseers.

The book features 326 of those images, as well as journal entries and letters from several inmates from 1997 to 1999, research on domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse, and a section on white-collar crime.

Since then, we have released a book of Lankford’s homeless photography, downTownUSA: A Personal Journey with The Homeless, and have even branched out into the realm of video with our documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. All of these projects relate to an interelated set of issues:

  • Incarceration is often a factor in homelessness.
  • Education and early home life have a huge influence on children and are negative early environments, often contributing to the future criminal activity.
  • Patterns of abuse and neglect cycle through generations.
  • If we shift our societal focus to actual rehabilitation into society, we can not only impact homelessness but also greatly reduce the state expenditures incurred. For example, if homeless people had access to health care, it would cut millions in emergency services costs accrued over the course of a year.

Later this year we will be releasing Born, Not Raised: Kids at Risk, in which we will explore the troubled psyches of youngsters serving time in juvenile hall. Without education and other humane assistance, many of these youth will be caught in the revolving door of institutionalization.

All of these projects relate to each other and, taken together, try to present, one aspect at a time, the complex and interrelated nature of the societal breakdowns they address.

So, tell us, how did you discover Humane Exposures, and when? We’d love to know!

Source: “A Portrait of Jail Life,” The San Diego Union Tribune, 09/23/08
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in my Sweet Potates: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.
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Homelessness: Facebook Resources

HUMANE EXPOSURESHere at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we believe in the power of the Internet to inform and mobilize people. This is one of the reasons that this blog exists.

Since we have just launched our new Facebook pages, we thought this would be a good time to share some of the groups and organizations on Facebook that also champion the cause of those discarded by society.

So, here, in no particular order, is a list of Facebook pages that you may find informative. Please visit them. (And, if you like our work, we would really appreciate it if you “Like” our new pages and help them start off on the right foot.)

We’re going to list our own new pages first and move on from there:

  • Humane Exposures Publishing — The main Facebook Page for our company. Updates on new films and books as well as a variety of new  items and resources. The books of HUMANE EXPOSURES PUBLISHING take a penetrating look at society’s disenfranchised, questioning how long we can ignore the broken segments of our population, and at what cost. If you stop by, please tell us what kind of content you would like to see more of!
  • downTownUSA: A Personal Journey With the Homeless (book) — Author and photographer Susan Madden Lankford kept a journal during her daily encounters with the San Diego’s street people, observing how even the defeated, or seemingly so, share many of our hopes and dreams.
  • Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time (book) – Through thought-provoking photographs and interviews, the author explores the kaleidoscope of alienation, personal despair, and fragile hopes of women caught up in the state’s zeal for incarceration.
  • It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing (film) – Important documentary film questions how long society can ignore the broken segments of our population and advocates for public awareness, correcting the underlying social issues, and improving the essential parenting skills.

The following is a list of other resources. All descriptions are quoted directly:

  • Feeding Pets of the Homeless — Feeding Pets of the Homeless is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinarian care to the homeless and less fortunate in local communities across the United States and Canada. How? Our volunteers collection sites receive donated pet food and deliver it to food banks and/or soups kitchens which have agreed to distribute the food to the homeless and impoverished.
  • PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) — In 2004, PATH reached its 20th year of existence. From a small program operating out of a church basement, PATH has now become a large regional agency serving over 1,800 people each month. The agency has developed a model of integrated services that communities from all over the state, the nation, and even internationally have looked to for replication.
  • InvisiblePeople.tv — Dedicated to capturing real stories by real people bringing visibility to the issues of homelessness. Our goal: for homeless people to no longer remain invisible. The stories are told by real people in their own very real words. They’re raw, uncensored and unedited. CAUTION: Some content may be offensive. Our hope is that you’ll get mad enough to do something. (Note: We’ve covered the InvisiblePeople.tv in an earlier post.)
  • Let’s get 1,500,000 people to support the 1,500,000 homeless kids in the US — This page was started by a small group of people committed to raising awareness and providing solutions around a problem we feel is not being properly addressed. It began with a question: “How is it that the wealthiest country in the world has well over a million of its children living on the street, not knowing where they will sleep tonight?”
  • The National Coalition for The Homeless — A national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness. We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. At the same time, we work to meet the immediate needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of doing so. We take as our first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Toward this end, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing. We focus our work in the following four areas: housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.
  • Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project — Real Change exists to create opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) – A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a 17-member board of directors… is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.
  • Breaking Night: My Journey From Homeless to Harvard (book) – In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night by Liz Murray is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age 15 was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.
  • Healthcare for The Homeless, Inc. — For 25 years, HCH has provided comprehensive health care, mental health services, case management, addiction treatment, and housing assistance for tens of thousands of Marylanders experiencing homelessness.
  • Horizons for Homeless Children — Horizons for Homeless Children strives to improve the lives of homeless children and their families by providing the nurturing, stimulation and opportunities for early education and play that all children need to learn and grow in a healthy way.

So there you have it, please let us know if you would like to see more roundups of this nature. If so, we could make it a regular feature.

Source: Facebook.
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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Guggenheim’s Superman: Education Is Everybody’s Problem

SupermanHUMANE EXPOSURES would like to salute Davis Guggenheim. The director on An Inconvenient Truth has a new film out, and he is hoping that it will spark a dialogue about education in the same way his prior film has generated debate about climate change. Waiting For Superman is nothing less than an S.O.S. on behalf of our school systems nationwide. A call for awareness and action on this subject which affects us all.

It all started earlier in the year when Guggenheim and his wife decide to visit an obviously ailing school that they passed every morning while taking their child to her school. Why did he do it? Alison Gang, San Diego native and movie critic for Sign On San Diego, reports:

So why visit a school that his kids don’t even attend? ‘Superman’ makes the point that failing schools are everyone’s problem, even if your family has options or you don’t have children at all. But, Guggenheim argues, the system can’t be changed unless the public demands reform, which is exactly what he aims to inspire with his film.

‘I think there’s a series of often unspoken reasons that we give ourselves not to care, not to open our hearts to this,’ he said. ‘I want to puncture this kind of disconnect. That’s what a movie should do, connect all the dots and get people to go, ‘Oh, it’s real. This affects me.’’

This s exactly what we hope to do with our own documentary, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing. Public awareness and dialogue are essential to effecting any substantive change no matter whether you are addressing education as Guggenheim is, or homelessness and the penal system as we have. Without that essential engagement — there is no pressure to produce change. Fortunately, it would seem that Guggenheim’s effort is getting some legs under it:

Whether ‘Superman’ will start the wave of massive reforms necessary to turn a notoriously intractable system on its head remains to be seen, but it has already earned a nod from Oprah Winfrey, who dedicated an entire show to the film, and it won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

With Oprah’s powerful reach behind it, this film will get a lot more attention. Step one is always getting people to see it so that it can motivate them to explore the topic further and hopefully take action.

Of course, anything that digs deeply into the long-established policy is bound to get a backlash. In this instance, the film’s stressing of educational accountability is, shall we say, less than popular with the teacher’s unions. Gang writes:

Less than pleased with the film are the teachers unions, which take issue with the film’s stance against automatic tenure and lack of teacher accountability. Taking on the normally taboo topic was a difficult decision for Guggenheim, a lifelong Democrat whose father brought him up to believe strongly in unions. ‘But that’s why you make documentaries. To say things that no one wants to say and to make people face uncomfortable truths.’ He smiles, ‘Not inconvenient truths, but uncomfortable ones.’

Uncomfortable truths are important. It is when we face these and deal with them that we mature, both as individuals and as a society.

Documentary film fans should visit the homes of both films on Facebook: Waiting For Superman and It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. Each covers a different aspect of the overall problem our society faces — providing proper support for children as they grow up in order to help them be productive members of society. Our film looks at the prison system and makes a great followup to Superman as it explores the frequency with which the issues Guggenheim examines impact those children in later life.

Source: “Guggenheim knows he isn’t ‘Superman’,” Sign On San Diego, 10/08/10
Image by emilydickensonrisdesabmx, used under its Creative Commons license.

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“It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing” Screens at the Newburyport Film Fest

Newburyport Documentary Film FestivalThe Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, now in its third year, presents 20 films. Three judges will rate the films in a number of juried categories, and, in addition, an audience-adjudicated award will also be given.

This year, one of those films will be It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing from our very own Humane Exposures Films. The film is directed by the award-winning Alan Swyer, who is known for work ranging from The Buddy Holly Story to the recent documentaries such as Béisbol: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which he has worked on with Andy Garcia.

It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing is executive-produced by Susan Madden Lankford, and is rooted in her work on downTown: USA and Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes. Here’s a sample of what the film has to offer: This is the trailer from the Humane Exposures Films YouTube Channel:

In his advance praise for It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing, Dr. Bruce Perry sums up the film with an almost Twitter-like brevity:

‘It makes long term economic sense to try and take care of these people in a humane way, and help them heal.’ – Bruce Perry, MD, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Child Trauma Academy

Experts agree that the film’s portrayal of our criminal justice system points to the need for and to the effectiveness of rehabilitation-oriented approaches over simple incarceration, especially when the critical aspect of recidivism is taken into full account:

‘In examining the indisputably recidivistic nature inherent in the contemporary practice focusing on the institutionalization of criminal offenders and comparing it with the documented potential found in numerous remedial programs that return nonviolent past offenders to society as self-sufficient and productive citizens, the documentary film ‘It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing’ makes a compelling case that more than justifies its factual title.’ – John Dean, author and former White House counsel

You can see It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing, as well as a host of other important works in the documentary genre, on September 24 through 26 in the historic downtown Newburyport, MA. The two venues, The Screening Room and The Firehouse Center for the Arts, will be the site of the film screenings during the film fest.

If you find yourself in MA on those dates, come on down and check out the film! It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing will be screened on Sunday, September 26, at 2:00 PM at The Screening Room. If you don’t want to take a chance on missing it, you can purchase tickets in advance.

Source: “Films Selected This Year,” Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, 09/10
Logo of The Newburyport Documentary Film Festival is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Dr. Perry and The ChildTrauma Academy

CTA LogoQuestions of abuse and neglect are the tricky ones. Just like so many issues in life, they are vastly more complex than they seem at first. In the case of the children, whose bodies and brains are constantly developing, these complexities can span a broad array or disciplines.

Enter The ChildTrauma Academy and its Senior Fellow Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. The Houston, TX-based CTA describes itself as a not-for-profit organization that is “working to improve the lives of high-risk children through direct service, research and education.” Dr. Perry is an internationally recognized authority on children in crisis.

As a native New Orleanian, I must admit to being quite partial to the work Dr. Perry has done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The plight of our city’s children and the elderly was one quite evident to me from the start, and I think his work was important. This excerpt from Dr. Perry’s article, “The Real Crisis of Katrina,” applies not only to the child survivors of the Gulf Coast disasters, but also to children in general:

We know that traumatic experiences can result in a host of chronic, sometimes, life-long, problems. More than 35% of the children exposed to a single traumatic event will develop serious mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is just the start, however. Children exposed to adverse experiences are at much greater risk for physical health problems throughout life; this includes heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Traumatized children are at much greater risk for other emotional, social and mental health problems; and as these children grow into adults the risk follows them. Adults with childhood trauma have increased divorce rates, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse and dependence, school failure, and unemployment among many other problems. These children have a much higher probability of requiring the services of our expensive public systems throughout life; special education, child protection, mental health, health and criminal justice.

That makes perfect sense to me. I am in my 40′s, and I have certainly experienced a deterioration in several aspects of my physical health in the five years since Katrina. I’ve also seen the widespread symptoms of PTSD firsthand after the flooding. One can only imagine the effects of these stresses on a developing child, especially when the adults around that child are experiencing similar privations.

Dr. Perry’s article continues with an important message of hope:

And we also know that when traumatized children receive appropriate services, they can heal. We know that if traumatized children can live in safe, consistent, relationally-rich, and nurturing homes and communities they heal. Indeed, traumatic experience can provide a wisdom and strength that is impossible to get any other way. Yet this healing takes place and wisdom grows only when the child is safe, secure and her emotional needs have been met.

Dr. Perry suggests we prioritize funding for children at the same level we do for other crucial infrastructure. After all, our children are the infrastructure of our future.

Dr. Perry can also be seen in our debut feature-length documentary, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing by HUMANE EXPOSURES films. You can also follow The ChildTrauma Academy on Twitter.

Source: “The Real Crisis of Katrina,” The Zero, The Official Website of Andrew Vachss, 2006
Image: ChildTrauma Academy Logo, copyright retained; fair use: reporting

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