‘The Sentence’ Exposes the Girlfriend Problem
Women like Cindy Shank are among the increasing number of women serving extensive prison sentences under federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for drug offenses. In many cases, these drug offenses are not devised or committed directly by the women, but typically, the women are charged for “conspiracy” (knowing) or being under the coercion of a boyfriend or spouse who sold drugs.
Shank is a mother of three serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison for her boyfriend’s involvement with a Michigan drug ring years earlier. The documentary “The Sentence” shows the aftermath of Cindy’s sentence for conspiracy charges related to crimes committed by her deceased ex-boyfriend—something known in legal terms as “the girlfriend problem.”
The number of women in U.S. prisons have increased by almost 800 percent since the early 1980s when federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses were enacted. The film is a portrait of mandatory minimum drug sentencing consequences, captured by Cindy’s brother, Rudy Valdez, who filmed her and her family’s journey over 10 years.
Filming was Valdez’s method of coping with the tragedy to his sister’s family. He captured both the everyday details and the milestones, moments in which Cindy herself can no longer share.
In the midst of this, Valdez found his voice as both a filmmaker and activist, and he and his family began to fight for Cindy’s release during the last months of the Obama administration’s clemency initiative. Whether their attempts will allow Cindy to break free of her draconian sentence becomes the aching question at the core of this personal portrait of a family in crisis.
HBO will air “The Sentence” on October 15th preceded by an Oscar qualifying theatrical run beginning October 12th. The Sentence is winner of the Sundance 2018 Audience Award for U.S. Documentary. It’s the winner of the 2018 Traverse City Film Festival Roger Ebert Prize for Best Film by a First-Time Filmmaker.