'Mothers of Bedford' documents challenges of parenting from prison

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As filmmaker Jennifer McShane spent more than four years following the lives of five incarcerated women and their children, documenting the abundant challenges of parenting from prison, she ultimately realized that love could triumph over tribulations.

Her documentary, "Mothers of Bedford," will be shown today at 2 p.m. at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., Oakland.

It will be presented by Pennsylvania Women Work and the Three Rivers Film Festival and will conclude with a Q&A session with Ms. McShane and one of the women featured in the film.

Ms. McShane, originally from New York City, wanted to tell a story that was unreported. She became inspired by The Children's Center at Bedford Hills prison, which provides mothers a nursery, parenting workshops and weekend visiting programs -- something most prisons are unwilling or unable to fund.

She also learned that 80 percent of women in U.S. prisons are mothers of school-aged children.

"I was really surprised that, as a mother myself, I didn't really know that much about what was happening in prison in terms of parenting," she said.

While "Mothers of Bedford" does not claim to solve complicated issues within the criminal justice system, it does reveal the importance of incarcerated women maintaining a positive mother-child relationship.

Research has found that with the right supportive services, both parent and child can develop in prison. Mothers also tend to have lower rates of recidivism after being released.

"The idea is that they've now bonded with this child, so there's a stronger incentive to not go back (to prison)," Ms. McShane said.

Overall, Ms. McShane said the message of the film is that regardless of a woman's mistakes, she can still be a good mother.

She said, "There's a lot of positive messages in the film about redemption and what is possible."

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Emily Petsko: epetsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1468.


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