SINCE I BEEN DOWN – Review by Jennifer Merin

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Filmmaker Gilda Sheppard’s very sobering and sometimes heartbreaking documentary, Since I Been Down, is about the criminal justice system in the United States, particularly as it raises awareness about the lasting impact of three-strikes laws that have mandated life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who’ve been convicted of crimes three times.

The harsh three strikes laws, passed as our nation-wide fearful response to an escalation of drug-related crime and gang activity during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, has incarcerated children for life. Thirty years after they were locked up, the convicted kids who are now adults remain Locked up without any access to a key that will open door of the cell that’s holding them. There’s no path, no possibility for their redemption and return to society, no recognition of their rehabilitation through education, imposed discipline, and the heard-earned wisdom they’ve gained with maturity.

Some of them were actually arrested for three relatively minor infractions, some of which are no longer even considered to be crimes.

Set in Tacoma, Washington, Since I Been Down focuses on Kimonti Carter who was a teenager when he was sentenced to life without parole under Washington State’s 1993 three strikes law. Kimonti’s story is typical. He was raised in a poverty stricken community that was decimated by drugs, dominated by thugs, a hood where fear prevailed and civic services were severely lacking. Kimonti was as good a kid as he could be given that his childhood relationships and environment did not prepare him in the least bit to be a ‘good’ citizen. As a child dominated by misfortune, he couldn’t change his circumstances and shouldn’t be held entirely responsible for them. Kionti was a kid who needed a break, a mentor, someone who could guide him through the untenable hard knocks he faced from his infancy. Instead, he went to jail.

Kimonti is now an adult. He’s still incarcerated, but he’s clearly no longer a naive and impulsive child. He has educated himself and has been influential in educating other inmates. And, he’s formed a community of inmates who are working together to improve prison conditions, replace violence with negotiation and bring about other necessary and worthwhile reforms.

After his long term incarceration, Kimonti seems to qualify as ‘rehabilitated.’ He’s actually quite a different person — someone who takes responsibility for his actions, consistently demonstrates good behavior, has impressive social skills and values. He’s very likeable. The three strike law that sentenced him to life in jail has since been rewritten, but the timing of Kimonti’s trial and conviction are keeping him from being able to get a retrial under the new laws.

So, the question is: Does Kimonti — and, by extension, others with similar stories — deserve a second chance to experience life without bars? See the film.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).