Doing Time

Director Cheryl Dunye brings her research stint at the Shakopee women's prison to bear on Stranger Inside

Stranger Inside isn't perfect. One of its structural flaws is that, in mystifying Treasure's past, the film removes us slightly from her experience: It's not so easy to feel the urgency of her need to find her mother, nor to grasp the many years that have led up to this moment. Somehow, the drama that ensues after the mother-child reunion feels at times like melodrama. Then again, other elements--such as the group-therapy sessions, shot documentary-style--feel so real that you'd swear some of these women had spent their lives inside.

"The drug-running in the film became a stereotype of what was going on," Dunye admits. "But a lot of the survival skills these women had on the street they carried on inside. It became clear to me that life inside is a microcosm of the outside--they don't escape or put on new airs to be there. Their survival skills are the same: pimping or the con. It's not in the same proportions or with the same amounts of money, but it's all about numbers and dollars, just like on Wall Street."

Dunye pauses, then adds with a laugh: "Or Hollywood."

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