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.

 

Credits:

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)