CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
In 1990, a Canadian Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women recommended a new concept for the incarceration of women. In 2000, five new federal institutions opened, amongst them, the Grand Valley Institution near Kitchener, ON, and in the opening sequences of the film, viewers see attendance checks being made on the "residents" (not "inmates") of this complex. The women at Grand Valley live in cottage-like little buildings; it looks not unlike some small suburban development, except for the levels of surveillance exercised over the residents' lives.
This film focuses on three women, all over the age of 50, who are currently serving time: TA, who is continuing to serve 12 years for the killing of an abusive partner; Kim, an immigrant from Vietnam and former drug dealer who is serving a four-year sentence; and Pearl, whose life seemed to go wrong when she fell in love with a man who led her down the path that led to Grand Valley. Despite their stuffed animals, house-plants, pet fish in aquariums, and non-uniform clothing – all the little details that add a touch of normal life to an institutional setting – it is impossible to forget that Grand Valley is a prison. Razor wire tops the fence beyond the Private Family Visiting Unit, strict consequences face violators of rules against the possession of alcohol and non-medical drugs, and inventory searches of clothing after private family visits remind both the viewer and the women living at Grand Valley that their freedom is restricted, that they are, in TA's words, "prisoners, not humans."
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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