The stats and facts are alarming. On average, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice, the U.S. sends two million children to juvenile prison per year. And annually, about 250,000 minors are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults.
Beyond the figures are the individuals and their families impacted by juvenile incarceration, each with a unique tale that spans the emotional spectrum. Some suffer irreconcilable heartache and tragedy, oftentimes as a result of a petty crime. Others are able to defy the odds, survive adult sentencing, and turn their lives around.
Beneath the staggering statistics, these stories often get lost. But thanks to the duo of composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and powerhouse journalist Lisa Armstrong, as well as their friends at the National YoungArts Foundation, one of these stories is being brought to the forefront in hopes that audiences will respond with meaningful action.
The 40-minute documentary Little Boy Lost: One Child’s Story of Life Behind Bars makes its world premiere in Miami as part of the National YoungArts Foundation’s “Outside the Box” series on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Complementing the documentary will be live musical scoring by
Saturday’s transmedia experience is shaping up to be “educational and transformational,” according to Roumain.
The documentary follows the tale of 20-year-old Allapattah native Damien Duncan. According to Armstrong, Duncan’s story “is the story of a lot of young men growing up.” He lived in a tough neighborhood, his dad wasn’t around much, and his school wasn’t the greatest. He was essentially the man of the house at age 14.
Like a lot of young people, he wanted stuff. He tried odd jobs here and there, but they weren't enough. He resorted to armed robbery and was ultimately jailed. After being released, he ran into the law again, was charged with armed robbery a second time, and was sent through the adult system.
The film includes conversations with Damien’s mom, his current boss, representatives from Empowered Youth (a nonprofit dedicated to helping keep young people out of jail) and many others. The timing of the film makes it even more powerful, as political leaders discuss mandatory incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.
“You hear about young people being incarcerated, and unless you’re familiar with the neighborhoods where people are growing up and what they are going through, you don’t really know the full story,” said Armstrong, an award-winning journalist with credits in the New York Times and Daily Beast, among others.
“I want people to come away with an understanding of Damien’s path, which is the story of thousands and thousands of children,” added Armstrong. “I want people to think about where they are growing up, what can be changed – whether it’s better education, both parents being in the home, or something else – and think about how this problem can be solved.”
Damien’s story didn’t end behind bars. He was recently released from state prison and will be in attendance – alongside his family – at Saturday’s premiere.
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“We felt so strongly about this piece,” said Esther Park, director of alumni & public programs at YoungArts. “In the end, there’s a sense of hope and redemption… and now Damien is an activist of his own and involved here in the community. Prison doesn’t have to be the end all, be all.”
Immediately following the multimedia experience, YoungArts will host a celebration of sorts with popcorn, cotton candy, drinks, and more.
“Allapattah is just a couple of miles away from us,” said Park. “We want everyone to come to our campus and feel at home.”
Little Boy Lost: One Child’s Story of Life Behind Bars
Saturday, May 20, at National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Doors open at 7 p.m. and performance begins at 8. The show is free and open to the public – RSVPs are requested at dbr.eventbrite.com. Visit youngarts.org/outside-box.