January 19, 2007
Psychology PhD student Karen Parhar.
Photo by Colleen MacPherson
By Jeremy Warren
Leaving prison and successfully reentering a world much changed from when you first began serving your sentence without succumbing to the vices that put you there in the first place is difficult enough.
Having a camera follow your attempt at doing so only adds another level of pressure. But three offenders, released from prison earlier this year after serving an average of five years, allowed U of S PhD student Karen Parhar and a film crew to record them as they tried to piece together their lives.
“Having the pressure of cameras following (the offenders) as they made decisions about their lives might have helped them to make positive decisions,” said Parhar, a student in the applied social psychology program in the U of S department of psychology.
The documentary “One Hundred Days of Freedom” aired nationally Nov. 25 on Global TV. Parhar collaborated with Fahrenheit Films and Cooper Rock Pictures, both based in Saskatchewan, for nearly a year of filming.
Parhar said her academic supervisor, adjunct faculty member Stephen Wong, knew of her background in acting and production, including a stint working on music videos with Fahrenheit Films, which helped move along the film project. “Not a lot of academics get this opportunity and this wouldn’t have happened without my background,” she said.
The roughly 60 hours of film was whittled down to 45 minutes for the currents affairs program Global Currents. All three offenders filmed for the documentary were convicted of violent crimes. All three also had drugs problems. “We don’t sugar coat what the offenders did. We’re trying to take an honest look at their experience through their eyes.”
Parhar, who was production manager and researcher for the film, transcribed the 60 hours of footage and will analyze it for her dissertation, which deals with how offenders released from prison successfully integrate into society. She wants to question the offender’s choices and their motivations for staying out of prison. The film should help shed light on decision-making process that might be missed from interviews.
“You hear what they say in the interview, but you don’t see their environment, the detailed information.”
Community and family support are integral to successful reintegration, Parhar said, and offenders require assistance in family and financial matters. “Their whole life is structured when they’re in prison. What these offenders are expected to accomplish (outside of prison) can be frustrating, and even devastating.”
To help cover the $250,000 cost of the film, Parhar and her collaborators received funding from Global Television, The Canadian Television Fund, Court TV, ACCESS TV, Canadian Learning Television, and SaskFilm.
Jeremy Warren is a Saskatoon freelance writer.