In 2014, I entered the Adult Correctional Facility in Cranston Rhode Island to observe the Saturday visiting hours between children and their fathers. A small boy in a crisp snap-back hat and matching Nike shirt caught my eye. He struck me as confident, a tough kid. But when the heavy metal door clanged open, and his father was standing there big in his khakis, the boy collapsed into his open arms and cried.
Tre, Maison and Dasan have driven me to question the criminal justice system through an important lens - one that is imperative to recognizing the rippling effects that mass-incarceration has on our communities. Enmeshed in this vast system are children struggling to identify themselves in a society that demonizes their parents, provides little support for their families and assumes “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” These are disproportionately children of color and from lower-income families, a statistic that in turn affects the social and economic progress of communities already burdened by neglect, violence, and the legacy of white-supremacy. Beyond barriers of race and class, however, children’s voices are most often silenced or spoken for. We so often we tell stories about children from a top down perspective, informed by what we (adults) “know” about their experiences and psychology, and consequently how their lives will unfold. As Tre, Maison and Dasan taught me about their worlds, I recognized that there was a desperate need for a film that allows children to speak for themselves - particularly children of color - to capture the power in their own emotional intelligence, and elevate their voices in a way that fully represents their lives as they experience them.
Tre Maison Dasan acknowledges that these children have their own agency and insights which should be valued and considered in systemic dialogue and designed interventions. There is intentionally no explicit call to action for an unfamiliar audience, and no specific agenda that might flatten their stories for an inevitably two-dimensional cause. Through a participatory, intimate and intuitive process, the audience is lead through the ups and downs of life itself, a process that is both riveting and personal but also values the complexity and nuance of these children’s different experiences. The film has become more than just an exploration of the criminal justice system, but by extension also systems of masculinity, familial and institutional support systems, education, social and economic justice, mental health, and many more. Our intention, through a strategic and far-reaching impact campaign and continued research project, is to look beyond “the conversation” and towards specific ways that this work has created and can share knowledge around the systems that effect these boys and millions of other children. Not until children like Tre, Maison and Dasan can see and understand themselves to be important and necessary in the fabric of America can we be comfortable with the world we expect them to grow into.
Denali Tiller, Director