Documentary Film Highlight: Tre Maison Dasan | Life With A Parent in Prison Through the Eyes of Their Sons

Tre 13 years-old, Maison 11 years-old, and Dasan 6 years-old are three boys whose childhood experience includes having an incarcerated parent. The documentary film “Tre Maison Dasan” tells their heartfelt story, centering on their lives from their view. We see the pressure, stigma, and trauma they face due to the separation and the absence of a parent, as well as their resilience and moments of joy. Unlike many stories that focus on the individuals with non-violent crimes, here we get to delve into the often-forgotten families following the children of parents serving long sentences for violent crimes and who make up a majority of our prison population nationwide. The filmmaker, Denalli Tiller, spent 3 years filming the boys almost weekly and from an interview with her, we can see the intention and care she took to make sure the film was led by and for them. She says:

We collected over 300 hours of footage, through which I never pressured intimate moments or scenarios based on the story I thought we were telling, I just spent time with them, listening and playing and documenting and collecting the stories from their live as they were in front of us. 

Overall, the film does a great job of showing the many layers of the boys’ experiences and the importance of maintaining their relationship and connections with their parents. Further, the film shows us the systemic, social, racial, economic, and mental health injustices they face. 

The film was featured through PBS’s Independent Lens, and it is available for purchase from the Director’s website and can be screened with permission. The least expensive option for schools. The PBS Independent lens website does provide two clips and blog posts on their website to delve into the film if you cannot access the whole film. 

One of the clips (1min, 7 sec) available for streaming touches on the realities of intergenerational incarceration. We see Tre and his dad as they bond during visitation on the difficulties of probation and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, when suddenly his dad realizes this experience is “not normal” as his dad says. You can hear the pain in their laughter when the dad says, “we need some new memories, this aint it…we need some fishing.”

We know children have to grapple with the stigma of knowing their parents did something wrong and may have even hurt someone. In the second clip (2 min), 11 year-old Maison talks to his dad about his underlying crime. We witness how his dad attempts to help Maison understand that he isn’t innocent. We see how his son says, “I still love you,” and leans on his father as he you can see him try and process. 

There are classroom and prison and re-entry viewing guides available here. The website for the director also has a page on Social Engagement, to help those screening to:

EMPOWER KIDS to communicate with their parents and caregivers in new, transformative ways that can reshape their relationships and give them agency in their experience; and ERASE THE STIGMA that surrounds children whose families are affected by incarceration.

IMPROVE SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR FAMILIES and to implement new programming that emphasizes the need for access and meaningful contact between parents and children 

BEGIN THERAPEUTIC HEALING for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people that can strengthen family bonds, promote reconnection and responsibility, and provide tools with which to re-enter their families and communities as empowered agents of their own outcomes.

Visit here for more on the Director’s process, how the boys reacted to the film and what the boys are up to know. 

R.B.H.

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