As I was working on this blog recently, I found out that Razor Wire Rodeo, the film I co-produced with Swiss director Nicolas Pallay, was now being broadcast on hulu.com. If you live in the States, you can watch it here:
Jerry Brown, the main participant of Razor Wire Rodeo, is a young black man from Shereveport, Louisiana. He was convicted to life in prison at Angola State penitentiary for a murder he committed in broad daylight during a marijuana deal in the streets of Shreveport. When we shot the film in 2005, Jerry was the star of the rodeo for inmates that takes place each October in the prison north of Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Nicolas Pallay and myself worked hard to be able to talk to him, because Jerry had this incredible ability to tell his story. Exactly like Dominga and Maryuri in By My Side today.
There was another similarity between him and Dominga. Jerry literally grew up without a mother. Or rather, his mother was around but she was smoking crack. Dominga’s mother sent her to beg on the street and did not believe her daughter when she was raped by her stepfather. But Dominga, like Jerry at the time of Razor Wire Rodeo, does not blame her mother for her fate. On the contrary.
As a reporter, you value these moments when you meet people that have such strength in them. You learn from them. I do believe Dominga and Jerry made me grow up and helped me stay focused on getting their story done. Sadly I have lost touch with Jerry after several years writing to him. When Razor Wire Rodeo was released, his mother Bonnie sent one of the most precious letters I received in my life. The toughest part in the film was not to find former gang members friends of Jerry in Shreveport or shoot a doc in a prison. It was to convince her to talk to us. She has a lot of guilt in her. She now goes to church and tries to deal with such memories as briefly seeing her son in the local prison one day. Both mother and son were incarcerated at the same time.
When she made the decision to talk to us, I have to say it was one of the most intense interviews of my career. For about one hour, this incredible lady fought back tears to tell the story of her life and of her son’s life with such dignity. She was sitting in her empty living room. The only thing you could see in that room, were the two chairs we were sitting on and rows and rows of DVDs against the wall. At the end of the interview, she went outside and sat on the porch. Scott Crain, the videographer, and I went back on the street but she still had her microphone on. She started to sing. You can hear the song in the film, it was beautiful.
When she was done, I walked up to her and asked her which song it was. She told me it was the song she sang in church when she was stressed or thinking about drugs. She asked me how old I was and if I was married. At the time, my wife and I had just got married and found out that she was expecting our first child, Léon. I told Bonnie about that. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said: “Jerry could have had that too”. Then she took off the microphone and handed it back to me. “I can’t do this anymore”, she said. She got up, walked back into her empty home and locked the door. I tried to go back to the house the following day before flying back to New York, but her door remained closed. I have never seen Bonnie again. That’s why her letter about 2 years later was so important to me.
For By My Side, Edelmira, Nicolas and I “made a pact” with Dominga, Maryuri and Fabiola, that we would make sure their story would get told to the world. We are really grateful for your amazing support in the last few weeks, because these three young women are getting heard. Please keep spreading the word!