You probably haven’t heard of Cindy Shank yet. Cases like hers don’t get much national publicity. That’s why movies like The Sentence are so vital. Through the medium of film, we can get to know Shank and her family. Once we have that personal connection, we can share her story and help ensure no one else has to go through what she did.
In her past, Shank dated Alex, a drug dealer. When Alex was murdered, she got charged but those charges were dropped. Six years later, the police arrested her for conspiracy while she was living with Alex. Shank got the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. Separated from her family, her brother Rudy Valdez documented the family’s struggles to cope without their mother, and fight for her release.
The political side of this is infuriating. What does this benefit to lock away a mother of three for 15 years? She’s not a risk of dealing drugs. Is this supposed to deter others from moving in with drug dealers? Shank admits she knew about Alex’s activities and she accepts responsibility for not reporting him. What do they need her for 15 years for? This is the prison industrial complex. It’s a mandatory minimum. The judge can’t even overrule it if he wants to.
As if being separated from her three daughters and husband Adam isn’t enough, they start moving her to other prisons. Adam can’t afford to fly the girls to the new prison in Florida, so now they’re rendering visitations unfeasible just because the prison close to their home closed. Cindy even considers requesting a transfer to a rougher prison just so she can be close enough for regular visits. This is the sort of human cost that bureaucracy doesn’t see.
Valdez captures his family’s side of phone calls with Cindy from prison. She’s reassuring her own father. You see the toll it takes on each family member. The girls grow up before our eyes, and Adam’s beard grows shaggier as he approaches present day.
The Sentence puts a human face on an abstract talking points issue. There are many cases like Cindy Shank’s, only they didn’t have filmmaker siblings documenting it for 10 years. The hope is for reform on mandatory minimums (to at least allow the judge to decide on sentencing as, you know, part of his or her job as a judge) and to grant more clemencies on past cases. If these sound like hot button boilerplate, then get to know the Shank family and consider looking at the issue with new eyes.