December 6, 2023

FRONTLINE, The Marshall Project Present Two Documentary Shorts from Inside the U.S. Prison System

Image: From left to right: Incarcerated women at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. (Credit: Elaine McMillion Sheldon); Mark Jones, serving life without parole in a Florida prison (Credit: Isaac Mead-Long).

In collaboration with The Marshall Project, FRONTLINE presents a two-part documentary special exploring two underreported elements of the U.S. criminal justice system. First, a film produced as part of FRONTLINE’s fellowship with Firelight Media examines the impact of a little-known “two strikes” law; then, a second film offers an intimate portrait of the complexities of pregnancy in prison. Airing Tue., Sept 5, at 10/9c on PBS, the hour-long special featuring Two Strikes and Tutwiler will also be available to stream online.

Two Strikes tells the story of how a former West Point cadet struggling with PTSD and addiction got life in prison in Florida after an attempted carjacking – a sentence that even the woman whose car he’d tried to take viewed as too harsh. But under a Florida statute that increases prison time for repeat offenders, Mark Jones’ fate had been sealed.

“My sentence is life without the possibility of parole,” Jones says. “So I’m in here till I die.”  

As the documentary explores, Florida’s so-called “two-strikes” law, more formally called the Prison Releasee Reoffender law, results in people getting mandatory maximum sentences for committing felonies within a few years of their release from prison. Often these crimes are robberies, burglaries or thefts in which no one is injured. Through the lens of Jones’ case, Two Strikes raises tough questions about crime, punishment and rehabilitation – and how harsh sentencing laws can mean that unarmed offenders end up incarcerated for life.

In addition to The Marshall Project, Two Strikes is produced in association with Firelight Media. The documentary is from a team led by producer and director Ursula Liang, a 2022 FRONTLINE/Firelight Media Filmmaker Fellow; producer Tessa Travis; and co-producer & reporter Cary Aspinwall of The Marshall Project. It premiered at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year.

Then: What is it like to give birth — and be forced to say goodbye to your baby 24 hours later? FRONTLINE and The Marshall Project go inside Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Tutwiler, an unforgettable window into the lives of incarcerated pregnant women — and what happens to their newborns.

Many of these women are survivors of domestic violence and have struggled with substance abuse disorders. Working with a group of doulas, they attend parenting classes, dream up names for their babies, and plan for how they’ll maintain their sobriety once they’ve served their time.

But nothing can fully prepare them for what’s to come. As one incarcerated woman says, “When you were locked up your whole pregnancy and it was just you and that baby, and then to walk away from the person that’s been there with you, it makes the strongest person break.”

Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon (Heroin(e), Recovery Boys), and reported and produced by The Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo, Tutwiler is a powerful lens into the reality of pregnancy and parenthood for incarcerated women.

Produced in association with WORLD’s America ReFramed, the documentary won the audience award at the 2019 New Orleans Film Festival, had its world premiere at Hot Springs Film Festival in October 2019, and screened at the 2020 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The film originally broadcast on WORLD on May 19, 2020.

Two Strikes and Tutwiler will be available to watch in full at, and in the PBS App starting Sept. 5, 2023, at 7 p.m. ET /6 p.m. CT. The two-part hour will premiere on PBS stations (check local listings) and on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel at 10 p.m ET/9 p.m. CT. Two Strikes will also be available to stream online with Spanish captions.

Two Strikes and Tutwiler are distributed internationally by PBS International.

Read more at FRONTLINE.

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