TROOP 1500

Girl Scouts Beyond Bars

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The Film

L-R:
A Caucasian female inmate faces right, resting her elbows on a white ledge in a room with a high ceiling and stark, industrial atmosphere. She wears a white prison jumpsuit and her dark hair pulled back in a braid 

A group of three mothers and seven daughters of different races pose with Troop 1500 leader Julia Cuba on the grounds of Gatesville prison: a security fence and barbed wire in the background. The mothers wear white jumpsuits, the girls wear casual clothes, they all smile; some of the girls hold and point video cameras.

An African American woman with straight shoulder-length hair stands outside in a white prison jumpsuit holding out her hands and talking. There is a security fence on the right and green hills in the background.

Children of prisoners are five times more likely than the average child to end up in prison themselves at some point in their lives.
—U.S. News & World Report

At Hilltop Prison in Gatesville, Texas, a unique Girl Scout troop, Troop 1500, unites daughters with mothers who are serving time for serious crimes, giving them a chance to rebuild their broken bonds. Facing long sentences from the courts, the mothers struggle to mend their fractured relationships with their daughters.

TROOP 1500 follows five young Girl Scouts—sisters Caitlin and Mikaela, Jasmine, Jessica and Naomi—whose mothers are serving time. Once inside the prison bars, the girls of Troop 1500 fall into the arms of the mothers they seldom see— Kenya, Melissa, Ida and Susan—crying and laughing while pulling out report cards and pictures and passing along hellos from grandparents and absent brothers. At the conclusion of each monthly meeting in the prison library, the girls and moms form a circle and recite the Girl Scout Promise in unison: “On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout law.”

In a prison library, an African American girl wearing headphones looks into the viewfinder of a video camera on a tripod. The camera points at a nearby table, where an African American mother is fixing her daughterıs hair, as the girl pulls away.
Jakira filming Caitlin and her mom Kenya at Hilltop Prison

More than 2 million children are now affected by having their parents in prison today—a fourfold jump over the number in 1991. 
—Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics

75% of incarcerated women are mothers, and many of them are single mothers.
—Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics

Filmmakers Ellen Spiro and Karen Bernstein, who volunteered with the girls for two years before making TROOP 1500, gained unprecedented access to Girl Scouts of the USA, Gatesville Prison and the families themselves. The filmmakers trained the girls in videography, so they could conduct their own interviews and tell their own stories—asking some difficult questions and getting some tough answers.

TROOP 1500 goes beyond the girls’ prison experience to show what their daily lives are like: balancing family, schoolwork and extracurricular activities under the care of dads, friends and grandparents. And though the girls longingly await the day when their moms are free, their problems don’t always end upon their mothers’ release.

The result is a sobering but hopeful look at the struggles faced by the more than 1.5 million American children who have a parent behind bars.

Updates

Director Ellen Spiro reported on how the troop and their moms are doing in February 2006:

"All the girls are doing pretty well. They are all still in school, some making good grades and some making average grades. Each one has her own interests, from piano to rock climbing to church activities. All but one of the mothers have been released and some are doing better than others. Some have had bouts with drugs and have been back to prison, briefly. Others have jobs and are working hard to change their lives around. I have remained very close with some of the girls and their moms."

Read the filmmaker Q&A >>

Learn more about the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program >>

Get information on inmate mothers and the prison system >>

Top photos (L-R)
Melissa, mother and inmate
Girl Scout Jasmine filming at Hilltop Prison
Kenya, mother and inmate
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