Read the full feature on San Quentin News here.
An audience of fathers at San Quentin State Prison cried as they watched the screening of a film that showed the impact on children when their parents go to prison.
“I almost broke down three times,” San Quentin News staffer Dejon Joy said.
“My boys are tattooed on my hand; I’ve been in the visiting room with my sons and on the other side of GTL (Global Tel Link, the prison collect-call phone system company). I feel like you were telling my life. The film was perfect.”
The movie is called Tre Maison Dasan: A Story of Boyhood Marked by the Criminal Justice System. It is told completely from the perspective of three kids from Rhode Island—Tre Janson, 13, Maison Teixeira, 11, and Dasan Lopes, 6.
“As adults, we don’t listen to kids a lot.” Denali Tiller, director of the film, said. “We think we know what they need. I haven’t seen a lot of kids allowed to have their own truths. It became important to me to make a film directly from their perspective, meeting them where they are and allowing them the space that they need.”
The director used her resources and the help of producer Rebecca Stern to make the film possible.
“It’s not my place to be a helper or to be a savior; it’s just that I had the resources,” Tiller said. “This is their film; this is really them…I just used my White privilege to support the kids as best as possible.”
Each boy had a different dynamic.
Janson’s anger and resentment over his father’s incarceration are shown through his outburst and weed smoking. Teixeira, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is sweet and self-aware. Lopes, the youngest of the bunch, is naïve, believing his mother was at school and his father was in a place he calls Trinidad.
“Trinidad is a place where dads live that can’t find a place to live,” Lopes said in the film.
The documentary showed the kids’ daily lives, such as answering the phone when their parents call collect and seeing their parents on prison visiting days. Also, the film displayed the pain of finding out that their mother or father, whom they looked up to, was guilty of committing a violent crime.
“I have two grown sons, and I saw in the film what I thought might have been the pain and suffering that might have happened in my sons’ lives because of the decision I made that caused me to come to prison,” said Dwight Krizman, 63, who is serving a life sentence.
The film also revealed that kids love their parents in spite of the crimes they committed.
Tiller hopes the film will help children impacted by incarceration get the resources they need. Her strategy is to take the film on a tour of communities of children, incarcerated parents, schools, prosecutors and judges.
“One in 14 kids is impacted by having a parent in prison,” Tiller said. “That’s at least one kid in every classroom, and teachers don’t even know it’s an issue that affects students in their classroom. I want to help stakeholders in their lives have access to resources to help the kids.”
The film’s website, tremaisondasan.com, links people to resources like Joyce Dixson-Haskett’s curriculum that helps kids through the grief and trauma of having a parent in prison. It’s called Levels of Responses to Traumatic Events (LORTE).
According to Tiller, Dixson-Haskett was trafficked, and she shot and killed her perp. Sentenced to natural life, she got out after 17 years.
When Dixson-Haskett went to prison her kids were 6 and 8—they were 23 and 25 when she came home. Her work became providing and building support systems for children with incarcerated parents.
Tiller, now 25, heard that Dixson-Haskett created the curriculum.
Tiller, then a film student at the Rhode Island School of Design, sought out Dixson-Haskett, who paroled in 1994. Intrigued, Tiller started going to visiting days for children and parents at a prison in Rhode Island.
As she got involved with the kids, she became attached.
“They have become part of my life,” Tiller said. “Through them, I saw a world that I was not exposed to, that was invisible to my privilege of being White.”
The movie started as a trailer and school project and developed into a full documentary with the help of crowd funding sources like Kickstarter.
While working at Picture Motion, Stern saw the trailer on Kickstarter and was blown away. She donated $75.
“We raised $20,000,” Tiller said. “I started the feature film when I graduated.”
Later down the line, Stern reached out to Tiller and ended up becoming the producer. Stern’s prior background includes being a production coordinator on Cartel Land and co-producer on Netizens as well as the The Bomb on Netflix.
“Tre Maison Dasan is the first film where I was the main producer,” Stern said. “I wanted to make something that was important to me.”
Neither Tiller nor Stern planned to visit San Quentin on April 12. They came to the Bay Area to show the film at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
When Dr. Hollander, who oversees mental health care at San Quentin, saw the film, she called Public Information Officer Lt. Sam Robinson. With only 48 hours’ notice, Lt. Robinson arranged for Tre Maison Dasan to be screened in the chapel.
“I saw the film and thought it would be pretty impactful,” Dr. Hollander said.
With flyers announcing the showing of the film taped to the wall at the last minute, turnout to see the film was low—about 10 people. However, Tiller plans to come back to San Quentin and show the film again. Also, she plans to have it played on the San Quentin institutional channel.
“It’s a must-see for everyone in prison, especially those who have children,” Krizman said.