Girl Scouts get serious

A Texas Girl Scout troop unites girls with their incarcerated mothers.

Published February 22, 2006 4:34PM (EST)

On the subway this morning, I was reading the March issue of O Magazine (Where else can you read an interview with the man who inspired "Hotel Rwanda," dish about motherhood with the creator of "Grey's Anatomy" and learn what to look for when buying new makeup brushes? It's genius!) when I stumbled upon a story that has me scrambling to set my TiVo.

On March 21, PBS stations across the country will air "Troop 1500," a documentary film that follows five girls in a program called "Girl Scouts Beyond Bars." The nationwide initiative, founded by the National Institute of Justice in 1992, works by uniting scouts with their incarcerated mothers during monthly meetings held in prison libraries and visiting rooms. "Troop 1500" directors Ellen Spiro and Karen Bernstein spent several years with the Texas troop, coming to intimately know the girls and their mothers and to understand up close the tangled ways in which incarceration can affect a family. More than 1.5 million children have a parent behind bars and statistics show that those children are themselves more likely to end up in the justice system. But Spiro and Bernstein hope that their film and innovative programs like "Girl Scouts Beyond Bars" will raise the support needed to reverse the cycle of crime and ease the suffering of millions of families.

There are now more than 40 "Girl Scouts Beyond Bars" chapters nationwide. To learn more, click here.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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