Lives Behind Bars: Community Film Discussion Series

Lives Behind Bars: Community Film Discussion Series

Coe College, Spring through Fall 2022

“Lives Behind Bars,” a free film discussion series hosted at Coe College creates conversation in the Cedar Rapids area about the impact of incarceration on individuals and their communities. Funded in part by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the film series is open to all and seeks to bring together those with a range of backgrounds and experiences for a productive exchange of perspectives.

Documentaries Watched and Discussed in this Series

Thirteenth, dir. Ava DuVernay (2016)

Shakespeare Behind Bars, dir. Hank Rogerson & Jilann Spitzmiller (2005)

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, dir. G., P. & T. Kunhardt (2019)

Since I Been Down, dir. Gilda Sheppard (2020)

If you are interested in more information about how to view these films or host your own discussions of them, or if you would like discussion questions for these films, please contact Dr. Gina Hausknecht at


Discussion Series Goals

Central to the ways that the American carceral system works is its invisibility in the everyday life of those who are not directly impacted by it. Although there are nine state prisons located in Iowa, they are out of sight and out of mind for Iowans who do not have direct contact with those prisons. At the same time, the pandemic has brought the lives of incarcerated people into the news with coverage of the spread of COVID-19 within prisons, vaccination rates among the incarcerated and correctional officers, and early release motivated by public health considerations. Iowans, as reflected in the latest legislative session and events throughout this calendar year, are grappling with complex questions about sentencing, parole and release, prison safety, rehabilitative programs, and felon enfranchisement.

Each of the films in the series offers a distinctive lens on the laws, policies, and practices characterizing incarceration in America today, and on the economic impacts, effects on families, and social-emotional dimensions of mass incarceration. Discussants will be better able to conceptualize the larger framework and consequences of incarceration and therefore to engage with central questions around public safety, punishment, rehabilitation, justice, and well-being.

The discussion series is organized by Dr. Gina Hausknecht, John William King Professor of Literature and Creative Writing in Coe's English Department. Dr. Hausknecht has taught at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville through the University of Iowa's Liberal Arts Beyond Bars college-in-prison program and teaches about incarceration and prison education at Coe.

Thanks to Our Sponsors:

Support provided by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this discussion series do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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