A free documentary screening invites Pittsburghers into the interior worlds of several women sentenced to die in Pennsylvania prisons.
Across the Walls, a documentary by local multimedia producer Njaimeh Njie, stages a conversation between Avis Lee and Paulette Carrington, two Pa. women recently released from life-without-parole sentences after serving over 40 years in prison. They discuss their experiences of incarceration and their organizing work to abolish life-without-parole sentences.
The film, which was commissioned for the Carnegie Museum of Art's 58th Carnegie International exhibition, also includes the voices of five women currently incarcerated in Pa. prisons. CMOA will screen the film on Sat., Feb. 18, followed by a panel discussion and light refreshments.
“Using interviews, found footage, and landscape cinematography, the film assembles a story about the women’s interior lives, against the backdrop of spaces they’ve inhabited and spaces they’ve been taken away from,” according to the event description. “Never straying from the women’s points of view, Across the Walls is a meditation on memory and manifestations for a free future.”
The panel will feature three experts — Ricky Olds of the House of Life, Richard Garland of ReImagine Reentry, and Terri Minor Spencer of Colorful Backgrounds EXPO — disucssing "second chances given to those who have been incarcerated can actually make our communities safer, more loving, and collectively thrive."
The project exemplifies the efforts of people like Lee, who co-founded the nonprofit Let's Get Free: The Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee.
In 2021, Let's get Free hosted an exhibition featuring art and poetry by contributors in and out of prison. As reported by Pittsburgh City Paper, the show served to highlight "racial biases in the incarceration system," primarily "how 70% of people sentenced to life without parole are people of color and Black people."
Lee, a Black woman improisoned over a 1981 incident resulting in a second-degree felony murder charge, had her sentence commuted in early 2021.
Those unable to make the screening can still see the film at CMOA, where it will continue to play on loop as part of the 58th Carnegie International until April 2.
Across the Walls Screening and Panel Discussion: 2nd Chances Keep Us Safer. 2-4 p.m. Sat., Feb. 18. Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. Free, museum admission not required, registration not required. cmoa.org/event/across-the-walls-screening