Getting out of jail and staying out

A scene from “Coming Home” shows a Circle of Support and Accountability helping a former inmate

Bess O'Brien's 'Coming Home' shows how prisoners readjust to society

By GLYNIS HART

reporter@eagletimes.com

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SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Documentary filmmaker Bess O'Brien's focus is social problems, like the heroin epidemic or the foster care system. She and Jay Craven are behind Kingdom County Productions and their mission is to make films “rooted in Vermont.” Her most recent work, “Coming Home” addresses the problem of prisoner re-entry into society. 

The Springfield Restorative Justice Center hosted a showing of the documentary film, “Coming Home” by Bess O'Brien on Jan. 16. 

The film follows five people returning to their Vermont communities from prison, showing the challenges they face and how community members can help them not go back to prison. 

In Vermont, there are 24 Community Justice Centers to tackle the problem of recidivism and the needs of crime victims. Often, people coming out of prison have burnt their bridges with friends and family, have a spotty work or educational history, and flounder when they leave the criminal justice system. They may lack social networks to would help them get on their feet and take care of themselves. 

COSA programs (Circle of Support and Accountability) help reintegrate former inmates into their daily lives. Run through Vermont’s Community Justice Centers, COSAs are made up of community volunteers who meet once a week with offenders. These volunteers help former inmates create strong bonds of support, friendship and accountability as they work to become healthy members of society. Prisoners that are often placed in COSAs include sex offenders, drug related criminals, and felons. The rate of recidivism drops when folks are involved with a COSA team. 

O'Brien told the Eagle Times that funding for this film came through grants, Vermont Department of Corrections and individual donors. Asked if she ever feels pressure to “go Hollywood,” O'Brien said, “No.” 

“I fall in love with the people that I am interviewing and although they have tough wrenching stories, I find their courage and resilience to overcome many of these struggles to be inspiring,” said O'Brien. 

“I hope that the film removes some stereotypes that folks might have regarding people coming out of prison. I hope the film shows the power of COSAs and community support in helping to reintegrate people back into our communities after prison.” 

O'Brien and Craven describe themselves as “art activists” and their company, KCP, sponsors a series of performing arts events in the St. Johnsbury area, as well as running an intensive filmmaking program with Sarah Lawrence College. Their films have won multiple awards. “Coming Home” toured Vermont last fall, but was brought to Springfield by SRJC to inspire people in the community. 

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