Natural Life is a threefold experimental documentary comprised of a 77-minute, single-channel video, a gallery installation and an interactive online archive. The piece challenges inequities in the U.S. juvenile justice system by depicting, through documentation and reenactment, the stories of five individuals of different age, gender, economic background and race, who were sentenced to Life Without Parole (Natural Life) for crimes they committed as youth. The youthful status and/or lesser culpability of these youths, their background and their potential for rehabilitation, were not taken into account at any point in the charging and sentencing process. The five will never be evaluated for change, difference or growth. They will remain in prison till they die.
There are over 2500 inmates in the U.S. who are serving a Life Without Parole sentence for a crime they committed as juveniles. The U.S. is the only country in the world that allows Life Without Parole sentencing for youth.
The project's goal is to portray the ripple-effect that the sentence has had not only on the incarcerated youth and their victims, but also on the community at large. More than fifty hours of interviews with individuals who were involved with the crime, the arrest and the sentencing of the featured inmates were recorded. Among them judges, lawyers, police officers, reporters, wardens, teachers, child psychiatrists, legal experts and victims’ family members.
The interviews were coupled with staged scenes from court and from the main characters’ crime setting, as well as with detailed images of life in prison, reenacted by a group of high-school actors, and shot at an abandoned prison in Michigan.
Producer / Director: Tirtza Even
Featured Inmates: Matthew Bentley, Kevin Boyd, Barbara Hernandez, Efren Paredes, Jennifer Pruitt, and in the online archive, also Jonathan Belton
Music: Oded Zehavi
Editing: Tirtza Even and Meredith Zielke
Camera: Emilie Crewe, Gonzalo Escobar, Tirtza Even, Yoni Goldstein, Raphael Rodolfi
Installation space designer: Ivan Martinez
Assistant Director for Prison Reenactments: Phillip Sample
In-Studio Camera and Lighting: Joey Carr
Sound Design: Jacob Ross
Color correction: Tom Rovak
Camera Assistants: Ronen Goldstein and Scott Slade
Editing consultant: Susanne Suffredin
Reenactment Actors: Lakim Carney, Chrissy Garcia, Faizan Hasnain, Kati Holland, Crystal Marquez, Madison McLean, Kaicey Pare, Scott Slade, Michael Szala, Cora Swise, Carlos Wagener-Sobrero, Pierre Walker
Interviewees: Mark Bilkovic, Lynn Boyd, Lessie Brown, Andrew Burch, Paul J. Ciolino, Bernardine Dohrn, Robyn Frankel, Nolan Gottschall, Elizabeth Hernandez, Hon. David B. Herrington, Hans R. Koppenhoefer, Hans R. Koppenhoefer Jr., Velia Koppenhoefer, William Kucyk, Deborah LaBelle, Donald Logan, Inge L. Longpre, Thomas L. Morneau, John C. Polasky, Denny W. Pruitt, Jason Pruitt, Mitchell Ribitwer, Ron Roberts, Tammi Smith, Edith Marie Stone, Andrea Waple, Pamela K. Withrow
Logging: Gonzalo Ubillus and Courtney Clay, the Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle
Distribution Consultant: Caitlin Boyle, Film Sprout LLC
Discussion Guide Design: Ivan Martinez
Interactive Archive Technical Consultant: Nick Briz
Interactive Archive Development: Chris Collins
Interactive Archive Interface Design: Daniel Spangler
Funded In Part By:
The Fledgling Fund
Artadia, The Fund Art and Dialogue
Chicago Digital Media Production Fund, a project of the The Voqal Fund administered by Chicago Filmmakers
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Produced alongside and with the extensive support of the Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle (LODL)