- 1991 Sundance Film Festival
Prison Stories is a three-part, ninety-minute film portraying the impact of prison on incarcerated mothers and their families. As directed by three sterling women directors, Donna Deitch, Penelope Spheeris and Joan Micklin Silver, respectively, the anthology presents a grittily realistic portrait of the plight of women in prisons. It also reveals some startling statistics: since 1980 there has been an 111 percent increase in prison convictions for women; 75 percent of women in prison are mothers with an average of two children each, and 35 percent of the children of convicted mothers continue on to a life of crime. Produced for HBO's Showcase, the three segments resonate as one to provide us with an intimate understanding of the consequences for our society of this overwhelming crisis.
The first part, Esperanza, focuses on the dilemma of a woman, imprisoned for dealing drugs, who discovers that her only son wants to follow in her footsteps, and is helpless to prevent it. Deserted by all who might be able to help her, including the boyfriend for whom she has taken the rap, she is a trapped figure in a story which makes no easy moral judgments. As directed by Deitch (whose feature debut was Desert Hearts in 1986), Esperanza features a superb performance by Rachel Ticotin, whose toughness, tinged with desperation and the gradual realization of her helplessness, is effective without becoming sentimental.
Penelope Spheeris's New Chicks features Rae Dawn Chong and Annabella Sciorra as old friends whose relationship is tested by the alliances and hustles which mark prison life. Chong, who is seeking to gain better treatment for her unborn child, aligns herself with a gang leader and ultimately pays the price.
In Parole Board, a woman (Lolita Davidovich), who went to jail for murdering her husband after years of incredible physical abuse, must first make it past the parole hoard and then learn to deal with her now-teenaged daughter.
The contradictions in our prison system have never been more apparent than in these three considerations of the implications of incarceration (particularly on the under class) and the vicious cycle it inexorably sets in motion.
— Geoffrey Gilmore