26th July 2013

The power of film to change lives: a personal perspective on the Mothers of Bedford documentary, contributed by Sarah Roberts of Families Outside.

There are two films that have changed my life: I had to stop myself standing up at the end of Dead Poets Society and joining in with the pledges of “O Captain, my Captain” and knew then that teaching was my vocation.

Watching Mothers of Bedford during a research trip to New York in June 2012 confirmed that my decision to move out of the formal school system to supporting children affected by imprisonment was the right one. A powerful documentary following five women inside New York’s only maximum security prison, Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, Mothers of Bedford highlights the challenges of being a mother from behind bars.

To mark the European Prisoners’ Children Campaign, Families Outside hosted the UK premier of Mothers of Bedford at the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

Although the film reflects the US situation, so many of the issues are relevant to any country: the impact of imprisonment on children; maintaining contact between imprisoned parents and their children; and enabling parents in prison to be involved in their children’s education. In both Glasgow and Edinburgh, the screening was followed by a panel discussion which gave audience members a chance to engage further with the issues raised.

In Glasgow we enjoyed a live Skype chat with Bobby Blanchard, whom we see in the documentary as an advocate for the women and a key member of the Children’s Centre staff, whilst in Edinburgh the panel was joined by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, who fielded many of the questions. In both venues we were also fortunate to have women with personal experience of the criminal justice system, and as Mothers of Bedford clearly shows, there is nothing like hearing someone’s story for making an impact.

Following the screenings, I received this message from a friend: “I was so delighted to have seen that incredible film; it has stayed with me all of today, and I am sure will do so for a long time to come.”

Films really can change lives, and this one will not disappoint.

Families Outside has a Region 1 DVD (US and Canada) and an HD-Cam version of Mothers of Bedford (cinema quality) that can be sent to organisations for local screenings. If you are interested in this, please contact Sarah Roberts at Families Outside on sarah.roberts@familiesoutside.org.uk.

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Author: rmchristen