Monday, September 13, 2010

Girls in Prison

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo (2009) - Beesley
Oklahoma leads America in incarceration. Female incarceration rate there is two times higher than the national average. 75 percent of all inmates are in there for drug offenses and 80 percent among them are mothers, according to a correctional officer appearing in the film. Since 1940, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary has been holding annual Rodeo. It has been more than a mere gladiatorial spectacle. It's become a well-loved tradition, especially for its inmates and their families. For the inmates, it's once a year refuge from boredom of being incarcerated, a breath of fresh air. It's also a great honor to be selected to represent their respective jails. For their families, it's the only time they can enjoy watching their loved ones being free and happy.

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo starts with Danny, a tattooed and bespectacled convict describing his passion for rodeo. If you ever saw him on the street, you wouldn't be able to tell that the man is serving a 30-year sentence for murder. Personable and articulate, Danny sees rodeo as a perfect metaphor for freedom: "Being out there is to touch something that I gave up when I was sentenced." He laments. This is why they risk their lives being gored by bulls and thrown off broncos.

The film belongs to a female prison rodeo team though. They all have been struggling through broken homes, drug abuse, abandonment issues and separation from their children. As we get to know Rhonda, Jamie, Crystal and Foxie, same picture emerges from them: they have paid more than enough for the crimes they committed when they were young and stupid. They have wised up and all of them deserve a second chance.

As the team prepares for 2007 Rodeo, there are heartbreaks- a broken collar bone, contraband use (lipstick, they suspect) and subsequent suspension from the team, emotional family reunion and parole hearings. But all of them seem very happy when they are practicing on their jerry-rigged bull.

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo succeeds in putting human faces on the statistics and shedding light on the broken justice system where they insist on locking people up rather than investing on treatment and support. And there is plenty of death defying action by spirited beautiful women too. Definitely one of the best documentaries I've seen in recent years.

Review at Twitch