By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
When I was around 14, in Middle School, I discovered the joys of PowerPoint clip art, and created a “hilarious” presentation to show my friends that unfortunately had a cartoon bomb image.
A teacher discovered it and I was promptly suspended. If I was a 14 year old in Lucerne County, Pennsylvania, I very well could have been brought in front of Judge Mark Ciavarella, and he would have sentenced me to Juvenile Detention, guaranteed. I can only speculate how my life would have changed for the worst if that had happened.
Over 3000 children in his county don’t have to speculate. Kids for Cash examines Ciavarella and his cronies’ juvenile incarceration practices, framed around their alleged (but likely) quid pro quo stuffing of a lucrative youth facility, which they helped get built, with inmates in return for a 2 million dollar “finder’s fee”.
Kids for Cash is named after this high profile scandal, but ultimately proves frustrating as far as providing a guilty or innocent verdict. It allows everyone involved to voice their perspective and pain instead of foregrounding pet theories, which is actually a much more mature and realistic way to make a documentary, unlike, *cough*, some I can think of.
Just ask John Mark Byers.
What this documentary does really well is use this muddled case to build an indictment of an entire system. Because ultimately it doesn’t matter whether Mark Ciavarella actually consciously incarcerated children after receiving bribes.
Or whether a Judge could really be so ignorant of tax law.
No child should be torn from their parents and made a ward of the State because they made a satirical MySpace page, or brought a stolen scooter, no matter the motivation. This is an injustice if it happens just once. That it could happen a million times a year is an American travesty.
Kids for Cash is a bit too scattershot. Why do we repeatedly need to hear what the obnoxious talk radio guy or the fry cook and customers at Tony’s Diner? There are more elegant ways of documenting public opinion that wouldn’t bring the movie to a screeching halt when employed.
The kiddie drawings and dioramas in the attic set to Radioheads “Creep” are more on the nose than a wart on a Disney witch, and don’t make a lick of sense when you think about them. This isn’t a documentary about 7 year olds, so why the Primary School art?
She calls that one “subtlety”
That ambiguous feeling you have after watching this film is rather to its credit. Life isn’t black and white, and documentaries shouldn’t be either. Kids for Cash does, however, shed some light on a massive branch of justice, and the larger endemic problem of juvenile incarceration that it’s but one example of.
Take a Drink: for every devastating statistic shown onscreen
Take a Drink: for every speech magically emanating from the shit caught under your shoe (Scientific Name: Ciavarella Conahansis)
Take a Drink: for dioramas
Do a Shot: Talk Raaaadioo!