CASA screening of Tre Maison Dasan Inspires Those Working with Children and the Incarcerated​

Shine Global’s film Tre Maison Dasan , explores parental incarceration through the eyes of three boys. Following their interweaving trajectories through boyhood marked by the criminal justice system, and told directly through the child’s perspective, the film unveils the challenges of growing up and what it means to become a man in America. Hilarious, heartbreaking, uplifting and ending with tremendous hope, Tre, Maison and Dasan’s lives are stories of growing up, struggle, loss, empathy, positivity, resilience and unconditional love.

CASA Essex recently hosted a screening of the film for their volunteers and staff and other employees of the Essex County New Jersey child welfare system to help provide insight into the impact of a parent’s incarceration on their children and to spark discussion of how to effectively support this vulnerable population. The following statement from the organization’s Director of Volunteer Management Brenda Schwartz explains what they took away from the screening.

Organization: CASA for Children of Essex County (CASA Essex)
Director of Volunteer Management: Brenda Schwartz

CASA for Children of Essex County (CASA Essex) is an independent, court-authorized 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes the welfare of children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or abandonment by providing a safety net of support, advocacy and mentorship. CASA trains and supervises civilian volunteers to speak up for the best interests of these foster children in court to ensure that each child has the opportunity to thrive by receiving needed services and assistance while helping to move the child towards a safe and permanent home. CASA Essex is one of 950 CASA programs nationwide and the oldest CASA program in New Jersey.

CASA Essex recently hosted a screening of Tre Maison Dasan for an enthusiastic audience of CASA Volunteer Advocates as part of their Continuing Education training.  Given the film’s subject matter, we also invited our colleagues in the Essex County Division of Child Protection and Permanence (DCP&P), courthouse staff, and law enforcement professionals. Beyond providing a forum for CASA volunteers to interact socially with our DCP&P colleagues, the broad array of professional and volunteer roles represented by the 50 attendees stimulated a valuable exchange of viewpoints during the post-screening discussion with the film’s Director and Executive Producer.

The screening was an emotional experience for many. A glance around the audience revealed tears in the eyes of lay volunteers and seasoned DCP&P caseworkers alike.

The audience was riveted as each boy’s story evolved. Their innocence and guilelessness humanized the extent to which their young lives were impacted by their parents’ crimes, while at the same time humanizing the inmates themselves.

Tre’s visit to his father clearly illustrated how contact with a caring parent, even one who’s incarcerated, has the potential to positively alter the course of a child’s life. By accepting responsibility for his own mistakes, and presenting them as a cautionary tale, Dad offered Tre a glimmer of hope that he could break the cycle of intergenerational imprisonment and poverty.

The filmmakers asked attendees to complete pre- and post-screening questionnaires, in order to assess the film’s emotional and practical takeaways. The audience was eager to share their thoughts, writing-in a total of 411 responses between the two surveys! Collectively, these answers portray an audience who left the screening with heightened awareness of their own internal biases against the prison population, the need to look beyond these attitudes, and deeper understanding and appreciation of the importance maintaining the parental bond in this population for the benefit of the children we work with.

When asked what other professionals they think would benefit from seeing the film, besides naming various justice system and child welfare titles, there were suggestions to share it with teachers, psychologists, foster parents, and even the children and parents themselves.

CASA has benefitted from the experience by opening the door to future shared training opportunities with DCP&P, and is pleased to have connected the filmmakers with the Essex County child welfare system to explore additional collaboration.