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INDEPENDENT LENS: They Call Us Monsters

Airs Monday, May 22, 2017 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Antonio, Jarad and Juan hanging in the dayroom at the Compound, L.A.

Credit: Courtesy of BMP Films

Above: Antonio, Jarad and Juan hanging in the dayroom at the Compound, L.A.

Meet three young men living in the Compound, a facility for L.A.’s most violent juvenile offenders.

"They Call Us Monsters" goes behind the walls of the Compound, a high security facility where Los Angeles houses its most violent juvenile criminals. To their advocates, they’re kids. To the system, they’re adults. To their victims, they’re monsters.

Produced and directed by Ben Lear, "They Call Us Monsters" premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS Monday, May 22, 2017 on PBS.

They Call Us Monsters - Trailer

Go behind the walls of the Compound, a high-security facility where Los Angeles houses its most violent juvenile criminals, to follow three young offenders who sign up to take a screenwriting class with producer Gabe Cowan as they await their respective trials. To their advocates, they’re kids. To the system, they’re adults. To their victims, they’re monsters.

The film follows three young offenders who sign up to take a screenwriting class with producer Gabe Cowan as they await their respective trials.

Arrested at 16, Jarad faces 200 years-to-life for four attempted murders; Juan, also arrested at 16, faces 90-to-life for first-degree murder; Antonio was arrested at 14 and faces 90-to-life for two attempted murders.

As the boys work with Gabe on their screenplay, their complex stories are revealed.

S18 Ep18: They Call Us Monsters - Juan's Unrequited Crush -

In this excerpt from the Independent Lens film They Call Us Monsters, teenager Juan, who is incarcerated for 90 years-to-life for first degree murder, talks about the girl he's had a crush on since kindergarten and may never have a chance to tell her how he really feels given his situation.

Halfway through the class, Antonio returns to juvenile court and is released with time served but, back in the neighborhood, he quickly falls into the same patterns of drug use and gang life that led to his incarceration in the first place.

Meanwhile, the realities of Jarad and Juan’s crimes and pending trials set in. One of the victims of Jarad’s shooting is only 17 and permanently confined to a wheelchair. And, even if he is released, Juan faces deportation and separation from his family, including his infant son.

They Call Us Monsters - Jarad's Victim Speaks

Jarad Nava is incarcerated for life for four attempted murders and is one of the boys featured in the INDEPENDENT LENS film "They Call Us Monsters," but in this excerpt from the film we get to know Yesenia, a 17-year old girl forever confined to a wheelchair after Jarad shot her in the back in a drive-by shooting. Yesenia doesn't wish him dead but does want Jarad behind bars for 50 years.

“I first visited the Compound in early 2013 and just couldn’t stop thinking about this world I’d stumbled into – the narrow space between a lost childhood and a stolen adulthood where these kids managed to live, laugh and discover their potential,” said filmmaker Lear. “When I learned about an upcoming California Senate Bill that would provide them the opportunity for a second chance, I knew I had a film to make.”

S18 Ep18: They Call Us Monsters - Juvenile Prisoners Write F

In this scene from the Independent Lens film They Call Us Monsters, filmmaker Gabe Cowan introduces us to the screenwriting class he teaches to a group of incarcerated teen boys housed at a Los Angeles facility for juveniles tried as adults. While they can't physically leave, they can imagine their stories on screen, and we see a scene from this autobiographical film-within-the-film.

In California, juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 can be tried as adults and receive sentences longer than their natural life expectancy.

As the film reveals, in the last four years, the state has passed bills to decrease juvenile sentencing – a move that has re-sparked a national debate over the very nature of these violent juvenile offenders.

Do they have the capacity to change and return to society? What responsibility does society have to these kids and to their victims?

Photo credit: Courtesy of BMP Films

Gabriel Cowan at the Compound in L.A., where he teaches a screenwriting class to juvenile offenders.

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

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INDEPENDENT LENS is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter. #IndieLensPBS.

"They Call Us Monsters" film on Facebook, and you can follow @TCUMonstersDoc on Twitter.

CREDITS:

A BMP Films presentation in association with New Artists Alliance. Directed by Ben Lear. Producers are Gabriel Cowan, Sasha Alpert and Ben Lear. Executive Producers are Jonathan Murray, Gil Goldschein, Todd Rubinstein, Scott Budnick and Ted Dintersmith. Co-Producers are Ella Hatamian and Chip Warren. Editor is Eli Despres. Original Music Composed by Ari Balouzian. Director of Photography is Nicholas Wiesnet.

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