BONDING THROUGH BARS: giving voice to silenced children of incarcerated mothers ~ 9o minute documentary (Video and Visual Arts)

“There is really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’.  There are only the deliberately silenced and the preferably unheard”.  –Arundhati Roy

Directors and Writers:  Samantha Sarra, Christine Persaud and Mo Korchinski
Director of Photography and Editor: Nico Stagias
Research and Advisory Team:  Chesa Boudin, Kirsten Hargreaves, Ruth Martin, Jane Buxton


Beginning with the Bonding through Bars Roundtable, we will produce a feature-length international participatory video documentary on incarcerated mothers through the eyes of their children. Using an equity-focused participatory arts approach, children and youth will be supported by Directors who are mothers with lived prison experience, a Planning Circle made up of women with lived prison experience and their adult children, and an Advisory Team of over 20 international experts consulting on the film and collaborating with us on the project. As such Bonding Through Bars is a groundbreaking approach to storytelling as a means of giving voice to children often silenced by oppression and stigma.   The documentary will present compelling narratives, while allowing children and youth from five different continents to use art, video and other social media to direct storytelling, connect with thier counterparts around the world, and lead in advocacy for themselves and for generations to come.  

 While many children and youth are embracing social media as a means to connect and reflect their experiences of social injustice, many of their perspectives are marginalized as single acts of activism in a "leaderless revolution"(Bronwyn Hayward, 2012). Through this film, children of incarcerated parents can emerge as a crucial, cohesive and integrated voice for change.  There is an urgent need to have them lead their own storytelling in order to affect the social policy and governance issues that affect them.

The purpose of the Bonding Through Bars documentary, is to allow children to take the lead: to tell their own untold stories; to share their hopes for their mothers and themselves; to honour their grief and greatness within this cycle; and, to access and amplify their own innate wisdom, leadership and intimate expertise on what can be done differently. By supporting thier desire to tell their own stories, we hope to unveil barriers to their well being, shed light on their resiliency and create a momentum for change: “The wisdom lives inside of them, as long as they have infrastructure, mentorship and resources they can build what they need, not only to survive, but to thrive”.  - Angela Patton



Fundamental to life is the relationship between mother and child.  When that relationship is injured, far-reaching consequences result for future generations and for society as a whole.    

“When judges sentence people to prison, and when prison administrators determine visitation policies, minor children are often ignored....As incarceration rates have spiraled by over 500% in the last thirty years, so have the number of children who have lost parents to the prison system.  In fact, in the United States, there are more children with incarcerated parents than there are people in prison....Incarcerating parents of minor children is not just an issue for those sentenced to prison; the practice also generates third party harms for the children, their caregivers, the welfare apparatus of the state, the prison system and the law.”  - Children of Incarcerated Parents: The child’s constitutional right to the family relationship.  by Chesa Boudin.  The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 2011

Given all the serious generational health consequences of isolating mother's from their children (contrasted against the often relatively minor criminal incidents that result in a mother's incarceration and their real causes), Bonding Through Bars, will seek to explore how equity focused approaches can help protect the bond between incarcerated mothers and their children.   

More often than not parental incarceration is cyclical because the root causes of a mother's imprisonment were never dealt with.  Time was served but not healing, not purpose, not hope, not recovery, nor tools for coping with life and the stresses of family after prison.  Often as silenced bystanders, children are left to exchange hope for the deep scars of loss, insecurity, suffering and shame, over, and over again.  

Despite its critical importance to the health of our families and societies, there is a serious dearth in research and resources on this topic.   We propose to use participatory video and the arts as a way of innovating how we come to understand the knowledge and experience of children and to promote systemic change to better address the needs of incarcerated mothers and their children.

The voices and stories of these children and their family’s need for support are too often silenced under the clamour of judgment, punishment and in many cases prejudice directed toward their mothers. The emphasis on a mother’s punishment and not her healing, can shunt hope and opportunity for her children.  Punishment is often directly transferred to children who are not only innocent but also left without recourse or a platform to express their needs or indignation.   Both the mothers and their children face multiple barriers through oppression which inhibit their ability to access the resources they need, in the rare occasions when those resources are even available.  The opportunity for children to express themselves in their own way is critical to their healing and also essential for understanding the deeper, more cloaked failings of the justice system. These children collectively house a wealth of expert knowledge on the systemic failures that exist on a daily basis. Their perspective is crucial to transforming the very system that tranforms them.