The Sentence: A Riveting Documentary

(From left) Annalis, Autumn, and Ava in The Sentence. Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO.

If The Sentence doesn’t have you in tears at some point, please check your tear ducts.

Rudy Valdez developed a love for film because of his sister, Cindy Shank.  His older sister had wanted to be a filmmaker at one point in her life and she passed along this love to her brother.  Six years after the death of Cindy’s ex-boyfriend, Alex, she is sent to jail because of “the girlfriend problem.”  It has something to do with the “conspiracy of knowledge” according to legal experts interviewed in the film.  She’s not the only person who went to jail because of this.

While his sister is far away and not able to see her kids grow up, Rudy tapes the big moments.  If Cindy is not able to see them in person, she can view them when she finally comes home.  Rudy also interviews the children and other family members, too.  Autumn, Ava, and Annalis Shank grow up in front of our own eyes.  This helps audiences to get a sense of how long it’s been since Cindy went away.  Not only that but it also shows how the family members are hurting in their own way.

During these years, Rudy is not only growing as a filmmaker but he has become a growing activist for criminal justice reform.  It’s not until around 2014 when they finally start to look into clemency for Cindy.  The family worked with pro-bono lawyer Tatjana Misulic of The Clemency Project 2014.  Her application becomes one of 36,000 to fit the criteria in 2016 of which only 1,600 were approved.  Think about that number when you watch those final moments.  The Valdez and Shanks families may have their happy ending but so many other families are still waiting for theirs.

It’s not surprising that The Sentence took home the Audience Award for the U.S. Documentary competition during Sundance in January.  This is a powerful film that ought to change how we deal with “the girlfriend problem.”  It is not something that’s new but dates back to well over a decade ago, before Cindy was arrested again.  Her previous case had been dropped by authorities and she later cleaned up her life.  She later married Adam Shank and their family of three young children would soon see their lives ripped apart.  All because of something she didn’t do.

Her 15-year sentence took an emotional toll on her family and marriage.  She never got to see her children attend their first days of school.  You can’t help but cry over this.  It especially hurts that being transferred from Pekin, Ill. to Coleman, Fla. meant not being able to see her family as much.

Is it fair to arrest Cindy for her ex-boyfriend’s issues in dealing drugs?  I wouldn’t think so.  She righted her life only to see it ripped away from other.  Other women are not as lucky.  A woman might not even know that they live with a drug dealer but could get arrested for conspiracy of knowledge.  It doesn’t matter if they are forced to do something against their will out of fear for their own life because they’ll get the mandatory minimum sentence.

If there’s a message to take away from watching The Sentence, it’s that we need to reform our nation’s laws when it comes to mandatory minimum sentencing.  No family deserves to be ripped apart like this.  No mother should have to watch their own children grow up by only through watching home movies.  This is a powerful film that’s made even more powerful because of the original score and end credits song composed by producer/composer Sam Bisbee.  My cap is tipped to Rudy Valdez for fighting the good fight.

Featuring an emotional reunion that will bring a smile to your face, The Sentence is one of the most powerful documentaries of 2018.

DIRECTOR:  Rudy Valdez
FEATURING:  Rudy Valdez, Cindy Shank, Adam Shank, Autumn Shank, Ava Shank, and Annalis Shank

HBO Documentary Films will open The Sentence in select theaters on October 12, 2018.  The documentary will air October 15 at 8 PM.  The documentary will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.  Please check out The Sentencing Project.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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