In this special event presentation, Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur introduce their short film “Sheila & Joe,” followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and subjects.
“Sheila & Joe” is a love story that unfolds behind bars. This story is told through hundreds of letters shared by Sheila Rule, a former New York Timescorrespondent, and Joe Robinson, a man serving a prison sentence of 25 years to life. Despite a 20 year age difference, and undeterred by the physical barriers of prison, their love has unstoppable momentum. Intimate and nuanced, this short film visits the space between compassion and passion, revealing a man who transcends his crime and a woman who dares to break the rules. In the process, they shine a light on the practice of mass incarceration in the US.
“Sheila & Joe” premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival in 2021 and received Second Place for Documentary Daily Life from Pictures of the Year International 2020. The film was published on NPR’s The Picture Show in 2021.
David Campbell: So, Julie, Ed, I’ll hand over to you for the screening. And I’ll come back for Q&A later.
Ed Kashi: Alright. Thank you, David. And hello, Sheila. Hello, Joe. Hi. Great to see you as always. Hello, Julie. So, alright, I’m going to get this started. I just want to give a little background. So, I met Sheila Rule in 2013, when VII was commissioned to make a short film for the nonprofit Think Outside The Cell that she and Joe had started. And it was really looking at sort of how to deal with the stigma of incarceration, which is a pressing issue, especially in a country that suffers from such mass incarceration. You know, what happens to all the folks who come out, and how do they restart their lives, and so forth. So that was how I met Sheila. And then, over the next few years, we stayed in touch. And then in 2016, I heard about Joe and her relationship with him. Joe was incarcerated at that point, and, but I heard that he was going to be released in October of 2016. So, I thought it’d be really great to do a film on these two extraordinary human beings that are living a version of a story we think we all know, or we never actually think about, but it’s quite unique and quite beautiful. Well, my initial idea was of a great photo essay, you know— Sheila Rule, former writer for The New York Times—and I would do this photo essay, and well, sure enough, no publication showed any interest. And so, it was at that point that I turned to Julie, my wife, my collaborator, and I was saying, well, let’s make a film. And take it away.
Julie Winokur: And we did have discussions beforehand about oh, we, you know, we want to be there tracking the first year of their lives together once Joe was released from prison, thinking it’s a very traditional model for a film. And I think, you know, we’ve been at this a long time, and I feel like we’re always interested in approaching our work in fresh ways and not sort of just remaking a story that we feel has been told or in a format that’s been done. And so, we have conversations about, well, how do we do this? How are we going to document this moment in their lives? And do we want to be documenting this moment in their lives and I think we both felt that it would be insanely intrusive to be trying to shadow you guys to the degree that we normally would if we were going to document your first year together as a married couple because at some point, you guys would say, “Hey, you know, we married each other. We didn’t marry you guys, too. This is not a foursome. And you’ve got to leave our lives because this is intrusive.” So, we were trying to figure out how to tell this story in a way that A. would honor your privacy and your space, but also tell the story that we thought was it was, truly an exceptional story, which is your love story, how you met, how you fell in love. So, what I’d like to do at this point is to share the film because I think the film will speak for itself. And then we can have a discussion around the film and more importantly, your story, because that’s really what’s brought us all together. So, I’m going to share my screen and—
[film “Sheila and Joe” plays]
Julie Winokur: Whew.
Ed Kashi: Thank you.
Julie Winokur: Thank you.
Julie Winokur: So…
Ed Kashi: It’s always emotional to see this.
Julie Winokur: Yeah, yeah. Especially the ending. Somehow those photos never ever fail to well up emotion. I now would like to introduce everybody to Sheila and Joe, whom you know intimately now. And I would love for you both just to introduce yourselves and tell us what you’re up to now.
Sheila Rule: Hey, hi, everyone. Like you, I get emotional when I see our relationship told so beautifully. I am writing a novel. It’s not the same novel. It’s a different one. And I’m going to finish this one. So, I’m a writer. That’s what I do. Living here in Greenwich Village, New York, with Joe Robinson.
Joe Robinson: And…
Sheila Rule: Sorry about that.
Joe Robinson: We’ve got a little phone in the background. So, I’m Joe, as you know, and I’m the director of a re-entry program at a nonprofit organization in the financial district. And I’ve been there for about three years, a little over three years and so I enjoy my work, I get to help people whose experiences were similar to mine, so I can really relate to them very well. I’m also a college student, finishing up my bachelor’s degree after all these years. I’ll be finishing up next May. So, I’m happy about that. And finally, I’m also a teacher and entrepreneur and I teach personal, among other things, I teach personal finance. So that’s what I’m up to. So, I’m busy. Busy, busy, busy. And being married is work, good work. That keeps us busy too. Keeps me busy.
Ed Kashi: Let the therapy session begin.
Joe Robinson: Exactly, exactly.
Julie Winokur: And I do love the fact that you guys are so old school, you still have an answering machine.
Sheila Rule: Me too.
Julie Winokur: And I’m just noticing too, it is your anniversary in a few days, so happy early anniversary August 1.
Sheila Rule: Yeah, yeah, that’s the week. That’s the anniversary of Joe’s letter from—what prison?
Joe Robinson: Five Points.
Sheila Rule: Five Points. And he sent it to the prison ministry. So, we celebrate that as well as the anniversary of our marriage.
Joe Robinson: So, it’ll be 19 years, 19 years come August 1.
Julie Winokur: Wow.
Ed Kashi: Cool.
Julie Winokur: Yeah.
Ed Kashi: So, you know, I was thinking…
Julie Winokur: Go ahead.
Ed Kashi: Yeah, I was thinking about something earlier when we were talking about why we pivoted from trying to make a more traditional documentary film. And one of the things that stuck, which we struggled with, was the idea that even if you guys allowed it—and we talked about this in Bronx last month—why would you want someone with a camera with you when Joe leaves prison for the first time? Yes, it’s obviously a compelling and important moment. But it made me think about what Simone Biles did, I don’t know, I’m just—and Naomi Osaka as well, where it’s sort of like the media glare is so—it’s beyond parasitic, it’s like vampiric, and it’s really kind of amazing that these young folks are actually saying, “You know what? No. This is not okay.” So, I am absolutely certain that Simone Biles can handle any competitive pressure. She’s more than proved that, but to have, you know, a million cameras in social media accounts pointed at you, I don’t understand how people can be their best selves when that happens. So, to take that to your very specific, very personal situation, is this idea of, as storytellers, I think one of the questions we started to ask ourselves is, how can we still make great, compelling, meaningful work, but not kind of trample on the lives of the people whose stories we want to tell? I just wanted to say that. I don’t know that makes sense or would resonate with anyone, but I really do see the parallel to like what Simone Biles and those folks are talking about.
Sheila Rule: Yeah. No. I agree. In fact, I said to Joe that I had this feeling in my gut about Simone leading up to the Olympics because the expectations and the pressure were too great. Every day she was presented as the savior basically. If anything goes wrong, it’s okay because the Simone will save the day. So yeah, and in our case, I think, had you suggested that, while we’re very sturdy, I think the, you know, coming home is such a unique experience, particularly— and it’s a once in a lifetime experience we hope for people coming home from prison, so it is a time of when there are so many emotions and also so much to learn and see that having someone follow you around, it would be like one foot in one world and the other in the other world. So yeah, so it would not have worked and I’m glad that you thought better of it.
Julie Winokur: Well, and it by default alters the situation even if—now, Simone Biles is an extreme example. In our case, it would have been the two of us interloping in your lives and everyone I’ve ever documented, they don’t understand what it takes to be documented. So even if they say yes, they still say, “Oh, you’re coming back again?” Or “Oh, you still need more? Oh, you want to be there?” Or “Oh, you want to come to my mother’s house? “Oh, you’re…” You know, every step of the way, it’s like it seeps. It has mission creep. And even if you sign up for it, I don’t know that anybody fully understands what they’re signing up for.
Sheila Rule: Mm-hmm
David Campbell: So, Julie, there were a couple of questions. So, I thought we would put those in now, one from Paul, who really loved the poetic and lyrical nature of the words and the images and the footage.
Julie Winokur: Well, we love Paul.
David Campbell: It’s also this question of shadowing. And he’s suggesting that that, of course, would have produced an entirely different sort of film. Could you have come close to the kind of film that you produced if you had been shadowing in a more traditional documentary style? Or would it have been a completely different film?
Julie Winokur: It would have been a completely different film. Absolutely. So, this film poses, posed some huge challenges. In the one hand, it was a gift, because the writers had done their job already. So, the letters existed and there was this beautiful treasure trove of content to draw from. Because anybody who makes documentaries knows that you can’t script in advance. That’s just—it doesn’t work that way. You wait until life has unfolded, you’ve captured things, maybe you’ve done a lot of interviewing, and then you script from that content, but you cannot predict what that story will be. So, in this instance, we had the leg up of having the content written and the challenge was then how do you visualize it? What do you do with pre-existing story as opposed to story you witness? And that’s usually, you know, it’s the death knell of a documentary, where you show up to shoot something, and everybody’s like, “Oh, you should have been here last week.” And if you missed last week, you missed the story. You got nothing. And so, in this case, we had nothing, you know, visually, to start with walking in the door and trying to figure out well, how do we tell this story? How do we reconstruct without doing reenactment? How do you reconstruct the story so that a viewer immerses, and it presented this beautiful challenge, which was how to create a poetic, lyrical film visually, you know, so it was really an approach that was from the way we usually work start-to-finish this was almost finish-to-start. It was backwards.
Ed Kashi: I think also there was that desire to not intrude on their lives. I mean, regardless of what anyone, especially documentarians who do this for a living would think, that was a decision we made that— I don’t know if folks who are here listening, who have done films or even photo essays, you know, there’s definitely a wear and tear in doing that work and having done it a long time, I’ve actually become more sensitized to my impact on people, not less. I’m not inured or cavalier about it. I actually, kind of, like, when I thought again about the first day when they would reunite, my thought was, “How disgusting that I would be there. Like, that’s so creepy, you know?” So, I don’t know if—I guess it’s just the human part of me is in some ways, taking over on a values and sort of ethical—from a value and ethical position, it’s taking over the documentarian who will do anything to get their work, you know, and frankly, I don’t, I can’t subscribe to that approach anymore. Obviously, there are certain projects, certain situations, certain subjects where you have to do that, but in this case, we chose a more creative, poetic route. Also having the gift of your letters so that we had something, not only concrete, but incredibly deep and intimate and candid to work with.
Julie Winokur: I also want to give a shout out to Stephanie Khoury, who edited the film and did the motion graphics. And so, the visuals that are in the film, like, we shot Sheila and Joe reading their letters. We actually went back to the source of the relationship so to speak because we ended up filming in the church, where Sheila initially signed up for prison ministry at the Riverside Church and that was symbolically a beautiful place to stage the reading. We started there with doing that exchange, and we lit it theatrically. We had a vision and in some way for me, it was inspired by the exonerated, this notion that you could take people’s stories and have them read by actors on a stage I thought was so impactful. So somewhere that was the inspiration for doing that reading and lighting it as though it were a set piece, a theater piece. But once we had that, then became this question of, okay, now, what do we do because if a chunk of the relationship is before they’ve even met, then we don’t even want to show that footage until you’re, in this instance, the finished film, you’re about four to five minutes in before you see that scene. So again, the film is constructed chronologically. What we ended up doing is pulling footage of Ed’s, a certain amount of stock footage, we used the handwriting. Steph took everybody’s writing; she took their letters and created a font that she could put in motion. And then even the credits at the end. Our credits are all done in everybody’s handwriting. But it was to honor this idea that these letters stood their own ground as a device, as a motif. And so, you know, coming up with that balance of when and where does text on screen become its own element, when was it too much and how to use that in an elegant way so it had a comfortable balance. And then she pulled a lot of tricks out of her hat, with motion graphics in terms of taking footage and superimposing and we did a lot of colorizing so that we could construct a feeling out of sort of found footage.
David Campbell: So, a question. I have a question for Sheila and Joe. I mean, the letters are the basis of the film. Did you offer them? I mean, did you keep all your letters? Were you kind of the source of offering them up? And how did you feel about these incredibly personal, intimate letters being the basis of the film and used?
Sheila Rule: We did save almost all of our letters. They were so important to our experience, to our relationship, to our lives. So, I couldn’t imagine throwing them away. So, one after another as they came in, I didn’t, I mean, they were all over the place, but I knew I had them. And, you know, as far as sharing them, I did have trepidations. And—it wasn’t— I would have this thought that, “Oh, our letters are out there. Someone has our letters.” But I really trusted Ed and Julie. I really did and I don’t believe I would have been willing to share them had I not trusted them as human beings, as people before even filmmakers. Yeah.
Joe Robinson: For me…I was just going to say briefly, for me, I didn’t realize we had all those letters like, you know, in other words it was just a connective tissue that ran through our marriage, and even before we got married. And I kept them, for many, many—meaning on my end, like Sheila’s letters, I kept many of them. But Sheila would type her letters on a computer, most of them, so that made it easier for her to keep them, whereas I wrote most of mine, like, handwrote most of mine, even when I had access to a computer. And so, anyway, so I was surprised that we had so many letters. And then when I came home, we organized them in chronological order. This is, yeah, so we did that. But like Sheila, I had some concerns about the letters because some of them were very adult. I felt like I we were outed, in a way. So, but anyway, we’re human…
Ed Kashi: Actually, I’m sorry, David. I mean, I was wondering, because you already probably had to go through the whatever, the indignity, the sensors, right. So, you already knew that someone in the prison system or some folks had been reading your letters. I wonder how that made you feel? Did it impact what you wrote?
Joe Robinson: So, the way they ordinarily do it in New York State now, as of when I say now, as opposed to stories I’ve heard about in the 60s and 70s, like pre-Attica uprising, because that was part of the issue, that they were sensitive letters, like, I mean, just incredibly. They don’t do that as much now. The volume of letters is too much for them to do it. What they do is in the mailroom they just open the letters to make sure there’s no contraband included in the envelope. So, they really don’t read them unless they have you on their radar. Like they suspect that you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be doing. They probably didn’t read them. Yeah, I hope not, anyway. Who cares now? I’m home now. So who cares?
Julie Winokur: Yours might have been flagged for the juicy bits. Everybody’s like, “Hey, Joe’s got one. Come on over.”
Joe Robinson: Yeah. Probably, probably.
Sheila Rule: I did think about that actually.
Joe Robinson: They got Sheila’s attention. So maybe they got their attention too.
David Campbell: I mean, one of the other interesting things is, I mean, Sheila, you’re formerly a writer, you’re formerly a foreign correspondent, you’re writing novels and so on. But Joe, you’re equally a writer in the film here with the letters. Did you think of yourself as—were you someone who wrote letters before being incarcerated? Or was this a really, because it was the only way of communicating, it became a really significant way of communicating? How did you come to write? Because they’re equally poetic.
Joe Robinson: That’s a good question. So, I didn’t, let me see. In the beginning, in the very beginning of my stint, I didn’t see myself as a writer. We’re talking 1992. So,10 years before I met Sheila, or she came into the picture. But I did write a lot because I read a lot. I’ve always been a voracious reader. And I like to read, I like to write. And so, hold on one second. You got a little background going. But anyway, so by the time I started writing, Sheila had been writing a lot, you know—I was involved with different, quote, unquote, inmate organizations, was in leadership positions and roles. And so often you have to write and so yeah, so that’s what I did. But I think that through our letters, I certainly became a better writer. I actually thought I was a good enough writer. But I think I’ve mimicked some of Sheila’s writing, because I can appreciate really good writing and she’s a really good writer. And so just like in books that I read or have read, I will, you know, I think that’s what writers do, you mimic other writers. And so, I’ve become a better writer over the years, much more focused on the nuances of words and language.
David Campbell: There’s a question from Christiane. She’s also very complimentary and moved by the film, and thinks one of its powers is to challenge, actually, the stereotype of people who are incarcerated, particularly people of color who are incarcerated. And her question is, how can it be seen more broadly? And this is a question for everybody, I think. How do you get the film out beyond the art world, the documentary world, the film world, the photographic world, and so on, so that it can have an impact? What’s happening on that front? What are you thinking about that? And what are your ambitions on that?
Julie Winokur: So, I mean, definitely this film is designed to destigmatize incarcerated people. I mean… you know, at its core, in terms of the impact work it could achieve, because it’s a humanizing film and it’s intentionally so. It’s intentionally a film that is not about Joe’s crime, that is not about incarceration, that is not about, you know, again, what happens when he gets out and questions of reentry. It is a film very much so, about a man and a woman falling in love. And in, you know, in that act, it is a film that’s humanizing of an incarcerated human being. And so what I’d like to see is that we’re able to use the film with targeted audiences, because I do, I believe in going deep rather than wide with the work that we produce, because I think we can change minds, we can move people, but you don’t do it just because you have, you know—the film actually first showed on NPR on, they have a picture blog. And so, it was seen by, I think, in the first week by like, 85,000 people. It had a lot of hits, right? But that number doesn’t tell me that anybody’s heart and mind was changed. It just is a number. And so like, you know, when we do events like this—when we were recently at the Bronx Documentary Center—the discussion is so much around these questions of what was the experience like for Joe? And how does Joe explore a normal relationship within the context of being incarcerated, and, you know, it’s so much of a different kind of conversation around incarceration that’s really healthy to have. And what I’d like to see is that we position it with groups that work with destigmatizing incarceration, that work with, you know, improving the dynamics of mass incarceration, so we can reduce those numbers. And that begins by not disinheriting a huge proportion of the population because they’ve done something wrong. They have committed a stupid act somewhere in their lives and then we basically written them off as participants in society. I would like to see that we can share this film, because the conversation it breeds gets to that point without being about that point.
David Campbell: Sheila and Joe, how do you think about the question of the impact of the film? Did you go into the process of making the film, hoping that it would have an impact? Or that you would be able to use it in your work, particularly you, Joe, in terms of being a director of re-entry services? Or is that something that you’re addressing later once it’s made?
Joe Robinson: Yeah, for me, I didn’t think of it like that. I just thought of it as an opportunity too, I think, to end the stigma, at least address the stigma of incarceration and the people who are married to people who are in prison or were in prison or jail. That’s, I think, primarily, that was my main thinking. And for me, it’s cathartic. I mean and I think, you know—one thing about prison, the experience of prison, especially when you do long sentences like I did, is that it never goes away, you know, I mean, it’s just, it’s the truth, right? And so, I can unpack that, oh, you know, of course, I can unpack that, just that very subject alone. But by that, I mean that, you know, no matter what, or no matter how I feel, at least I’ve been home almost five years now. And so, no matter what I feel like that experience is with me, has stayed with me, the good and bad. I mean, it wasn’t all bad, believe it or not. I’ve grown tremendously over those years and became the person that I continue to strive to be. So yes, I thought it was important to share that and to be, you know, vulnerable. I’m comfortable, being vulnerable, being human. And I wanted people, for my part, I wanted people to see, what I wanted Sheila to see, is my humanity. I mean, that’s it, plain and simple. That’s it for me.
David Campbell: Yeah, yeah.
Sheila Rule: Yeah, I would. I agree that when we went into it, I don’t think I was so focused on how will this land, you know, in terms of what will be the impact and not initially, but what I knew was that we had a beautiful relationship, a beautiful story. And as we were going through it, and really focusing on our letters and our growth as human beings, I began to really appreciate the power of it, of that beauty. You know, it’s like, oh, this is a beautiful story. But I began to appreciate its power. And in my daily life, one person at a time, my telling of our story has made a difference. Because initially people are like, “Yeah, but you worked—yeah, you know, you were a reporter at the New York Times, you were a foreign correspondent. Why would you be with a man in prison?” And I would say, “I’m not with the man in prison. I’m with Joe.” And I think this film showed that. So I began to really appreciate the power of the story through the telling of it.
Ed Kashi: That was beautifully said.
Julie Winokur: Yeah, beautifully said. And the importance of a film is it’s an amplifier. As a medium, it can tell that story to your satisfaction so you genuinely can see your experience in it. It can do that to so many more people than you personally can do that. So that’s, that’s really like when we ask ourselves why do we do this? Because it’s a very voyeuristic profession. It’s, you know, there are those who tell stories and those who live stories, you know? So, it’s sort of, it’s interesting because you do, you go back and back and back. So, the why, the purpose of it. What’s the purpose? What’s the purpose? And how is this piece of media helping anybody? You know, because there’s a lot of voyeuristic media that doesn’t seem to be moving the needle at all.
David Campbell: There’s a question from Meghan, an important process question. It’s also an interesting film because it’s short. So, my question for you and Julie, did you intend to make a short film? And if so, what was the reason behind that? And how long did it take to make, because often the short things can take an awful long time as well. It may be sometimes even longer than the long things, deciding what to focus on.
Ed Kashi: Well, I think once we shifted from the idea of doing like a print-based, you know, images, still images and text approach, then, you know, we’ve worked so much in the last 10-13 years, whatever it is, making these short films, it’s certainly a niche that we’ve become quite accustomed to working in and comfortable working in. And also, we recognize it as a format that addresses the moment we’re all living in, where attention spans, not only are attention spans shorter, but that there’s such a large volume of material and information and media, where we’re bombarded with every day, that sometimes a shorter piece that is really well done can have a greater impact than a film, you know, a 90 minute film that you’re laboring to get through, so anyway, obviously a great 90 minute film, but it’s not working. So, I mean, so that was I think, the reason we made the decision, once we decided to do a film to make it sort of on a shorter film, in terms of how long it took—years.
Julie Winokur: Years. it took us years to make. And you know, again, we’re juggling multiple projects at any given time, this was an unfunded film. So, then what happens to your passion projects is they keep going back burner because paying work comes in and it’s like, whoop, sorry Sheila, and Joe, you’re going back burner again. And at some point, Ed would turn to me, he’s like, “Come on, we’ve got to finish. Sheila and Joe shared all this and they’re going to be questioning forever if we’re going to finish this film. We’ve got to finish.” So, I will say this was a gift of pandemic that we finally finished because work came to such a screeching halt, that passion work got back on the front burner, the really important work got back on the front burner.
Ed Kashi: But that’s an interesting point for folks out there that I, you know, I felt a great sense of responsibility once you guys had labored through a bunch of days with us and, you know, filming you and getting you to do— just all that you shared, that then there is this sense of responsibility as a media maker that you can’t just drop it, you know. This is not about money. It’s not about anything related to like professional stuff. It’s really just about kind of human, ethical, moral way of working really, and, you know, I always feel so fortunate when people allow me to, or when they share their stories with me, and that then I’m imbued with a sense of responsibility to handle it with care and come through. And, honestly, Julie feels the same.
David Campbell: Yeah. It was an unfunded film. Was that a choice to make it a passion project or —
Julie Winokur: Definitely not a choice. We did apply for a number of things, and we applied for editing, fellowships and producing fellowships and all kinds of things. And you know, anybody who is on this call or watches it down the road, do not be discouraged because we all get rejected a lot, a lot, a lot. And so, you know, it’s by hell or high water, you’ve got to make these films anyway. And then even after finishing it, trying to place it was challenging, because it’s kind of a, you know, it’s an anomaly of a film. You know, it’s not a straight documentary, it’s not a news piece. It’s not experimental, it sort of doesn’t really have its category, you know, so even showing it is challenging. But I want to get back to one other thing just because I feel so strongly about the impact work with films. And I feel strongly that a short film is usually more valuable for impact work because we can show a short film, and short could be up to half an hour. And then there’s enough time for the conversation. And so, you know, watching a film that you’re experiencing alone, but if you’re watching it and then processing with others, it becomes a communal experience that is deeply, deeply moving. And, you know, there’s a stickiness about, like, the conversation afterwards that it sticks to you, that I think is the most valuable piece of the equation, you know, so for me, and you know, our company, Talking Eyes Media, half of what we do is outreach and distribution and partnering with organizations. Half of it is making the media, but the other half is equally important.
David Campbell: I think that’s a really crucial point on impact because images, films don’t have impact by themselves. The audience has to be active on that front. And you saying that half the work is actually creating the conditions for the possible impact. I think that’s very important for anyone on this call, or, you know, to think about that—you’re only half done when you’ve made the images and told the story. Got a personal question about Joe’s son and family. Has he seen the film and— if so, what’s his reaction to the film?
Joe Robinson: My son has not seen the film. He’s in Connecticut with his maternal grandmother. And I don’t know how to put it, but we haven’t been in touch for a couple of months. It’s one of those weird things. And I say weird because my son is 31 and we’ve always had a good relationship. I think now we don’t, but I’m not really even clear, to be honest. It’s one of those things that happened, to be honest, that I would expect with a teenager, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, it’s just kind of like, I don’t understand his thinking. So yeah, so he hasn’t seen it, but my stepson, Sean, has seen it.
David Campbell: Right. And what was Sean’s reaction?
Sheila Rule: Sean cried. He was at a showing Bronx Documentary Center, and he cried several times and was really, really moved by the film. He really was. And in fact, he said, “Mom, let me know, you know, next time you’re going to have an audience in person, I want all my buddies to be there.” So we’ll see. Yeah, but he loved it.
David Campbell: That’s great. Yeah, yeah. Well, we’re coming up on the hour, which is kind of a normal time to finish. I don’t know if you guys want to make any final comments or observations. It’s been—we’ve demonstrated the value of conversation here; I think, around film.
Ed Kashi: Well, I guess I just wanted to say that I feel certainly, in the United States, when it comes to incarceration and the whole way that we deal with this aspect of our society, it’s just it’s absolutely horrible and cruel. And a story like this reminds me that, you know—How can I put this? It’s so easy to sort of fall into that trap and assume that everyone incarcerated is bad and all this you know, all the negativity, round it. And it just reminds me that you have to really pull back from that, from that way of thinking. And I hope I hope as a society, we can shift to a more—Well, first of all, less people incarcerated, that is full stop the first thing, and secondly, that we then revamp how we deal with folks who we imprison, to try to actually rehabilitate them, and actually care for them. And make—and not make them, but allow them— to feel valued and valuable, because otherwise it’s a sort of a psychotic way for society to go. And it’s incredibly cruel.
Sheila Rule: It is. It’s incredibly cruel. And I’ll just add, just to follow on Ed’s point, I think one of the things that I hope people take from the film is that people, so many people who are in prison have transformed their thinking and their lives. They’re not the kids who decided that the way out, or the way to glory or riches is violence, or a gun or an offense that is on the wrong side of the law. They really become reflective, thoughtful, and begin to tap into their potential. So, change comes often so early in their bid, as they call them. But so many of them are left with sentences that are 40-50 years. So, while they’ve changed, it’s not honored or realized or respected. So that’s just, in terms of the whole issue of mass incarceration.
David Campbell: Yeah, yeah.
Julie Winokur: I just want to add one other thing is because this touches on a relationship. Folks in prison have families and so when you incarcerate someone, you’re penalizing a family. That discussion rarely happens. And so, the whole dynamic between those inside and outside. Do people have children outside and the communication, and the, you know, how does a mate deal with it? How do the children deal with it? And you guys experienced Joe being moved a couple of times and that’s disruptive as well. We know they’re issues of communication. You were letter writing, but we hear all the time about the access to telephones and how people get billed exorbitant amounts of money to be able to have phone calls. You know, so I think that there is an entire universe of human beings impacted with each person who is incarcerated. So just as we think about, again, what story are we telling, it’s not the individual. It’s a much more community-wide suffering that we need to address.
Joe Robinson: I’ll just add real quickly, I’ll just close out with—because you mentioned a few things that were like operative words, in terms of human beings, which is a common, common issue. But it’s important that people not forget that that’s what we’re talking about, that at the end of the day, we’re talking about human beings, right? So, whether a person commits a crime or is accused of committing a crime, or whatever, we’re talking about human beings. So that’s key that we first kind of recognize that we’re not talking about, like a different species or something like that, you know. We see these caricatures on TV or read about them, we hear about them on the radio. And we think we know people who have committed crimes or were accused of committing crimes who are in prison, and we don’t. We really, really don’t. So that’s one thing I want to point out. But another thing that you alluded to, Julie, is trauma. Now, we don’t talk about that in this story, but you can’t talk about incarceration without talking about trauma, like really, and I don’t mean trauma, like, you know, like, just in prison, there’s a whole bunch of trauma that comes in prison. There’s post-incarceration trauma, but there’s trauma that preceded prison, and for some people, for many people, it’s what caused them or led them, even if it’s tangentially, to prison. So I think that’s a good discussion that needs to be talked about, how does—when you talk about families, you know, we’re talking about people who already experienced trauma and you know, before the loved one goes to prison, and then it’s exacerbated by incarceration, like you said, with the phone bills, the long distances, the travel and all the other expenses, the lack of positive role models for kids left behind. Then they come home. Often, especially if a person’s done a lot of time like myself, the relationships have frayed, or you know, people have estranged, their people move, people move on, start new relationships, everything. So, it’s ripe for a good long discussion.
David Campbell: Well, thank you very much to the four of you. Thank you, Julie and Ed, for sharing the film and the process. And thank you very much, Sheila and Joe, for being here to discuss it as well. And as I said earlier, showing off the power of conversation around the film.
Joe Robinson: Thank you
Ed Kashi: Thank you, David
Sheila Rule: Thank you.
David Campbell: Thanks very much.
Ed Kashi: Alright. Thank you.
Julie Winokur: Goodbye, everybody, and thanks…
Sheila Rule: Bye
Ed Kashi: Take care.