Opens Friday, December 6
In cooperation with 108 Contemporary &
George Kaiser Family Foundation
Prison Was Hard…Freedom Is Harder
“By ten, I had experienced every type of abuse someone can do to a child…It’s no wonder, I started getting high to numb the pain….The next 20 years of my life was drugs, jail, prison and alcohol.” – Casimiro Torres
Based on the original theatrical production of “The Castle,” conceived, co-authored, and directed by DAVID ROTHENBERG.
In this unforgettable story four extraordinary people–three men and a woman, each a convicted felon, who, by force of their own will, deep good nature, profound change in attitude and access to the finely tuned prisoner re-entry system of the Fortune Society, overcome a brutal past and defy the grim statistic that two out of every three prisoners released in the United States today will be back in prison within three years. Providing a model for the nation, this life-affirming and heart-breaking story proves that the implacable tide of recidivism can be reversed.
Directed by Philip Messina RELEASED introduces three men and one woman, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan, Casimiro Torres and Angel Ramos. The stories they tell of their criminal lives are chilling:
Casimiro Torres, grew up in Hell’s Kitchen. “As a kid, I was forced to fight my brother until one of us was bloody — I was bet on like a dog.” Fatherless, with an alcoholic mother he was placed in juvenile facilities where he was abused by a sadistic and sexually deviant staff. Casimiro started using drugs at age 10, becoming a hardened crack-head criminal–burglaries, armed robberies, whatever it took. He was arrested sixty-seven times and did sixteen years in prison.
Vilma Ortiz, a vibrantly intelligent woman from a solid Puerto Rican family, became addicted to cocaine and eventually dealt drugs becoming one of the few women to break into this malicious fraternity where her “status” gave her the illusion of power and confidence, masking profound insecurity and indecisiveness. Finally arrested and convicted, she spent six years in prison.
Kenneth Harrigan, an “A” student from a stable African-American family, started to use recreational drugs and was soon addicted to crack. Burglary sustained his habit–he served 16 years in prison.
Angel Ramos, Puerto Rican, grew up brutally poor with an abusive mother. At seventeen, a friend made an offhanded remark that offended him. Releasing a suppressed reservoir of rage, Angel murdered his friend. He served 30 years in prison.
From these deep deficits, Casimiro, Vilma, Kenneth, and Angel struggled and ultimately triumphed. Drawing on long overlooked personal strengths and a radical shift in attitude they all shared something in common and understood that the will to live productive lives was in their control.
They also shared something else. After leaving prison with no homes to go to and no jobs for support, they found a unique program known as “The Castle”, a 62-bed re-entry facility run by former prisoners in New York City. This haven was created by The Fortune Society, founded by Broadway Press Agent, Producer and activist, David Rothenberg, after years of engagement with former prisoners through talk backs after the performances of his hit play, Fortune and Men’s Eyes.
As part of their rehabilitation Caz, Vilma, Kenneth and Angel collaborated with Rothenberg to tell their own stories. Originally conceived as an exercise in self-awareness, the project developed under Rothenberg into the play, The Castle, and was produced by Eric Krebs, a highly regarded theater producer and social justice advocate, for a 14-month Off-Broadway run in 2008. To date, more than 30,000 people have seen the production in over 200 performances at prisons, colleges, community centers, and other organizations, including the New York State Legislature.
When Executive Producer Martin Feinberg, a successful advertising and marketing executive saw a performance of The Castle in a woman’s prison he knew it would make an important movie and brought these inspiring and challenging stories to the screen.
“Though Caz, Vilma, Kenneth and Angel have survived and flourished they are the exception.” Feinberg laments, “The vast majority of prisoners have the odds stacked against them. Many are released with no money, no job, no place to live and shunned by society. 65% of them are back in prison within three years. This film was made in the hope that many more will benefit from the examples of these four heroes whose lives confirm that with some help even hardened criminals can become productive citizens.”