Tre Maison Dasan: Three children of incarcerated parents

A- Documentary
Directed by Denali Tiller

When I saw this film before it screened at last year’s SFFILM Festival, I assumed it would have a theatrical release, and therefore wrote the review below. But that release never materialized. Instead, PBS’s Independent Lens picked it up and will broadcast it on April 1. And no, it has nothing to do with April’s Fools.

How does our industrial prison complex effect the children whose parents live behind bars? What’s it like when you can see your parents only on visiting day? Will society assume you will make the same mistakes as your father (or mother)?

This disturbing documentary tries to answer those questions – not by statistics or interviews with experts, but by following three young, Rhode Island boys with incarcerated parents. Two have fathers in prison. the other has a mother – apparently a single one – just out.

We get a pretty good view of how prisoners connect with their children. The large visiting room, where parents and kids can interact without physical barriers, has Star Wars and Disney murals. When prisoners can call their family, the home phone number must accept the charges.

This cinema verite documentary contains no narration. Only obliquely do we learn anything about what the parents did.

When Tre visits his imprisoned father, we can see the worry in the prisoner’s very sad eyes. He’s clearly terrified that his son will follow in his footsteps. His mother can barely handle this extremely rebellious teen. Tre smokes pot and frequently gets into trouble. He already has had problems with the law and is on parole. Of the three, he’s the one I found myself worrying about most.

Maison suffers from Asperger, but it hardly shows. He has a very good relationship with his incarcerated father, and they’re in regular contact. The father carries considerable guilt; we learn that he’s at least partly to blame for someone’s death. Maison’s mother lives far away in California, but the boy prefers to live with his grandmother, closer to the prison that holds his father.

Dasan’s mother gets paroled early on the movie, and she’s reluctant to tell her son where she has been. When a parole officer visits her home, she asks him to avoid the word “j-a-i-l.” Eventually, with the help of a social worker, she realizes that she’s making a mistake, and that she must explain her disappearance. In her discussion with Dasan, we discover a little about the act of arson that got her arrested. She works hard to get a better life for herself and her Spiderman-obsessed son, getting a job and bringing him into the cub scouts.


You can’t help caring for these kids. And you understand that none of these parents want their children to end up as they have.