"We wanted to make a film about our nation’s failure": New documentary profiles real-life victims of three-strikes policy

Thousands of people jailed for petty crimes were finally released when voters repealed the draconian Prop 36

By Kali Holloway

Published May 23, 2016 11:00PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


After several violent crimes committed by former felons garnered high-profile attention, Californians voted to pass the three-strikes law in 1994. The draconian legislation resulted in thousands of non-violent offenders receiving lengthy sentences, some for life, for minor violations such as petty theft and possession of drugs. In 2012, voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots in favor of amending the law, shortening the sentences of those currently serving time.

A new documentary titled The Return offers an up-close look at how the passage of Prop 36 impacted the lives of “those on the front lines—prisoners suddenly freed, families turned upside down, reentry providers helping navigate complex transitions and attorneys and judges wrestling with an untested law.” The film is a riveting, moving portrait of the human toll our system of overincarceration exacts on millions of lives.

“We wanted to make a film about our nation’s failure,” says Kelly Duane De La Vega, who with filmmaker Katie Galloway codirected the documentary. “This is our opportunity as a nation, as a society, as a people to redeem ourselves from essentially warehousing people of color, people born into poverty, in these horrible, horrible institutions. So one of the themes that The Return is about that really matters to us is redemption, but it’s our redemption, it’s our nation’s redemption, it’s our society’s redemption.”

The Return won the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and kicks off the new season of awardwinning POV documentary series on PBS on Monday, May 23 at 10pm. In the exclusive clip below, we follow Kenneth Anderson, who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense under the three-strikes law, in the emotional hours following his release.

Check out the trailer for The Return, below:

POV is collaborating with the game-changing clothing company Road Twenty-Two on a giveaway you can feel good about. The company hires women who were formerly incarcerated, homeless or suffering from substance abuse and provides them with steady income and valuable skills to break down roadblocks to employment. Gather friends and family to watch the PBS premiere ofThe Return, then visit pov.org/premiereparty to enter.

Kali Holloway

Kali Holloway is the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She co-curated the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts 2017 summer performance and film series, “Theater of the Resist.” She previously worked on the HBO documentary Southern Rites, PBS documentary The New Public and Emmy-nominated film Brooklyn Castle, and Outreach Consultant on the award-winning documentary The New Black. Her writing has appeared in AlterNet, Salon, the Guardian, TIME, the Huffington Post, the National Memo, and numerous other outlets.

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