Tre Maison Dasan. Directed by Denali Tiller. Oley, PA: Bullfrog Films, 2020. 94 minutes.

Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars. Directed by Ellen Spiro and Karen Bernstein. New York: Women Make Movies, 2005. 68 minutes.

Reviewed by Sarah R. Lazzari

More than five million children have experienced the incarceration of a parent (Murphey and Cooper 2015), and yet often these children, who experience secondary prisonization (Comfort 2003), are not a part of the conversation. Named after the film’s three protagonists, Tre Maison Dasan is a great example of what the experience of parental incarceration is like from the viewpoint of children. The movie explores the lives of these three young boys. They are very different. Their families are very different. Their experiences are different. Yet they all experience “hard relationships,” as Tre suggests, and face the stigma of having an incarcerated parent.

Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars also gives us a glimpse into the complexity of those impacted by the criminal justice system by focusing on the program Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, which is designed to “strengthen the bond between mothers and daughters in order to break the cycle of crime.”1 Although a couple of the girls were followed more closely than others, the film does not give much detail about the lives of the unique young women portrayed in the film. We learn a little bit about the caregivers, and we learn that one sibling pair is split between maternal and paternal grandmothers, but the representation of the young women is limited.

The two films have some overlap in the topics they explore, such as what it’s like to visit someone who’s incarcerated. Both depict what are considered special visitations (Lazzari, Miller, and Lee 2019), created specifically for groups of children to connect with their incarcerated parents, so these films don’t present experiences children typically face. Tre Maison Dasan shows the three boys going through security, waiting for their parents to arrive in the visiting room, and interactions during the visit. Troop 1500 shows us that instead of meeting in a “regular” visitation room/space, the girls are able to meet as a group. Each girl is able not only to interact with their incarcerated mother but also to engage with the other girls and their mothers, which a “regular” visit does not allow because families are separated by designated seating. Additionally, during a typical visit a caregiver must be present with the child and the incarcerated parent during the entire duration. This can drastically change the dynamic and may focus more on the relationship between the caregiver and the incarcerated parent. There is also less opportunity to move around and engage in other activities that may be more child friendly.

In Tre Maison Dasan, we witness the cycle of intergenerational crime (Capaldi et al. 2021), externalizing behaviors (Ramey and Harrington 2019), and the impact of neurodiversity (den Houting 2019). One of the children ends up with an ankle monitor, and we watch as he grows into someone engaging in minor street crimes. We also witness the anger of the young boys that manifests as lashing out toward others with angry words and violence often directed against those the boys are closest to. One of the boys also appears to deal with a form of Autism. Viewers witness him engaging in different ways with his caregivers and his peers in the classroom, but it is never directly addressed in the film. These factors bring unique challenges that become additional barriers for these vulnerable youth and are topics that can be discussed during class sessions to help students understand the complicated lives these young people lead.

Tre Maison Dasan is 96 minutes long, while Troop 1500 is approximately 60 minutes long. I watched the films with three of my current students and we talked about their length. When I asked whether Tre Maison Dasan should be shortened to fit a 50-minute class, the students indicated that they would have liked to learn even more about the three boys’ lives. They also suggested that people would look forward to coming to the second class session in order to finish the film.

The reviews of Troop 1500 were not as positive. Students thought the film lacked depth and didn’t enjoy the historical footage about the Girl Scouts that appeared awkwardly placed and that showed numerous White girls, whereas the majority of the girls in Troop 1500 are Black and Multiracial. These students had also recently watched the film Apart (Redfern 2021), which follows children whose mothers are released from prison and explores the challenges that families face during those tough transition periods. Troop 1500 explores this topic as well; however, it left the students asking more questions than they felt were answered. The film touches on the fact that girls are able to remain in the Girl Scout troop, but we never learn what that actually looks like for them and their mothers.

One out of every fourteen children in the United States has an incarcerated parent (Murphey and Cooper 2015). Our classrooms are no different. There will be students who see themselves in the stories of Tre Maison Dasan and Troop 1500, and teachers need to be prepared for the emotional reactions that may result from a screening. Even amongst the three students who watched the films with me, one was in tears as she recounted her own experiences with parental incarceration.

Along with films, I also try to bring in numerous guest speakers and texts throughout the semester in order to bring the content to life. I invite people who work within the criminal justice system, people who have been incarcerated, people who struggle with addiction, and people who have loved ones in the prison system. During the fall 2021 semester, for example, my Criminology 221: Corrections students read Reuben J. Miller’s book (I highly recommend), which explores the challenges people face when they leave prison (2021). I asked students about the impact of a film like Tre Maison Dasan versus having a person in front of them sharing their story or reading a book about the topic. Responses illuminated that the textbook, lectures, and Miller’s book help them to see the whole picture, but they felt that watching Tre Maison Dasan in particular was more intimate. The film allowed them the opportunity to look a little further behind the curtains. They were not as impressed with Troop 1500, but it was valuable for emphasizing that “the law’s eyes are blind” and that incarcerated parents are more than just an “offender.” The girls portrayed in the film seemed to be suggesting that the criminal justice system does not understand all the negative impacts they face while navigating the incarceration of their mothers. The law and society continue to see their mothers as nothing more than a criminal. They want the world to understand that while their mothers maybe made some questionable choices, we are all more than our worst decisions/behaviors. Tre Maison Dasan and Troop 1500, therefore, are also harsh reminders of the challenges facing the loved ones on the other side of prison walls.

Works Cited

Capaldi, Deborah, Margit Weisner, David C. Kerr, Lee D. Owen, and Stacy S. Tiberio. 2021. “Intergenerational Associations in Crime for an At-Risk Sample of US Men: Factors that May Mitigate or Exacerbate Transmission.” Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology 7, no. 3 (September): 1-28.

Comfort, Megan L. 2003. “In the Tube at San Quentin: The ‘Secondary Prisonization’ of Women Visiting Inmates.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 32, no. 1 (February): 77-107.

den Houting, Jacquiline. 2019. “Neurodiversity: An Insider’s Perspective.” Autism 23, no. 2 (December): 271-73.

Lazzari, Sarah R., Keva M. Miller, and Junghee Lee. 2019. “Opening the ‘Black Box’: Exploring Enhanced Visitations at a Women’s Prison.” Journal of Social Service Research 45, no. 5: 684-95.

Miller, Reuben Jonathan. 2021. Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

Murphey, David, and P. Mae Cooper. 2015. Parents behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children? Bethesda, MD: Child Trends.

Ramey, David M., and Nicole Harrington. 2019. “Early Exposure to Neighborhood Crime and Child Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors.” Health and Place 57 (May): 228-37.

Redfearn, Jennifer, dir. 2021. Apart. New York: Women Make Movies. 86 minutes.

1 See “Filmmaker’s Statement” in the Troop 1500 discussion guide.

Sarah R. Lazzari, PhD, is an assistant professor of criminology and sociology in the Psychology and Criminology Department at Heidelberg University. Her research explores the impact of incarceration on family dynamics. Her article“Opening the ‘Black Box’: Exploring Enhanced Visitations at a Women's Prison” looks at a special family visitation event at Oregon’s largest women’s prison. Dr. Lazzari got her start in corrections when she worked as a troop leader for Girl Scouts Beyond Bars. More recently, she has been working on a study with her students about the impact of COVID-19 on feelings of loneliness. The team is investigating whether those who have some experience with incarceration have learned tools and gained skills that have supported them during periods of quarantine.