Gripping Documentary Follows A Multigenerational Story Of Addiction, Love & Hope

Jacinta and Rosemary at Maine Correctional Center, 2016. Photo © Jessica Earnshaw.

A new Hulu original documentary, in partnership with ABC News and Impact Partners, is giving viewers a candid and eye-opening view into addiction and how it can impact multiple generations in one family. ‘Jacinta’, directed by Jessica Earnshaw, was shot over three years, the film begins at the Maine Correctional Center where Jacinta, 26, and her mother Rosemary, 46, are incarcerated together, both recovering from drug addiction.

As a child, Jacinta became entangled in her mother’s world of drugs and crime and has followed her in and out of the system since she was a teenager. This time, as Jacinta is released from prison, she hopes to maintain her sobriety and reconnect with her 10-year-old daughter, Caylynn, who lives with her paternal grandparents. Despite her desire to rebuild her life for her daughter, Jacinta continually struggles against the forces that first led to her addiction. With unparalleled access and a gripping vérité approach, director Jessica Earnshaw paints a deeply intimate portrait of mothers and daughters and the effects of trauma over generations.

‘Jacinta’ is a searingly honest portrait of family and addiction through the story of three generations of women whose lives have been upended by it. Unlike the many “Scared Straight” style docs out there, the director reveals the extent to which people can surprise us, especially people who so many write off as just some sad statistic in America’s ongoing drug epidemic. ‘Jacinta’ is a profound portrait of addiction and inherited trauma that’s ultimately, also a story of love and hope

We watch Jacinta experiences the highs and lows in real time throughout the film, and it has become such an impactful body of work that it earned Jessica the award for Best New Documentary Director at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. We had the opportunity to speak with both Jacinta and Jessica about this incredible documentary, and what they hope viewers will learn most from her story of addiction:


How did you first come across Jacinta’s story, and how long did you work on the film?

I was finishing a photo essay on aging in prison when I met Jacinta and her mother, Rosemary. I spent time with them both and I was intrigued by their relationship. I ended up following their story for 3 and a half years. 

You were present in some very candid and emotional moments of Jacinta’s life. How did you separate the filmmaker from the bystander parts of yourself when seeing her relapse, wave goodbye to her mom when leaving jail etc?

It was incredibly difficult, especially when she first used. At the time, I really struggled with whether I could emotionally handle this project. I had to balance my personal concern for her heath with my desire as a filmmaker to capture the truth of her situation. Although it does not appear in the film, after her relapse I did attempt to connect her with treatment and recovery help, efforts that were not successful. It became very clear that Jacinta did not want my help, or to stop. She and I spoke often about whether to keep shooting and she made the choice to continue, explaining her decision came from the hope her story could aid others in understanding addiction. 

You did a fantastic job of capturing not just the heartbreak in Jacinta’s story and family, but also the immense amount of love they have for each other. Why was it important for you to showcase this film as a love story, as well as about addiction?

I’m so happy to hear you describe it as a love story because that’s what it’s always been for me. I wasn’t interested in the addiction side of the story; in fact, I was adamant the addiction would be a side character and it would only have a place if something deeper was also happening in the scene. I looked at it like, the addiction was the smoke and I wanted to investigate the fire. I was driven to follow Jacinta for so long because I wanted to understand what had contributed to her ending up with her mother in prison. 

Why is it important that society sees more films and stories about incarcerated mothers, given the high number of mothers in US prisons and jails today? 

When a father is incarcerated, the mother often maintains the child’s relationship with the father. When a mother is incarcerated, it’s less likely those bonds will remind intact, as a woman is more likely to maintain the child’s parental relationships. Incarceration effects the whole family, but especially children. I think it’s incredibly important as a society we think about the generational impact on children in sentencing, and the need for healing not punishment.

What do you want viewers to take away most from watching ‘Jacinta’? 

One of the most interesting dynamics of the film is between Jacinta and Rosemary. Rosemary was the victim of trauma and became an addict at a young age, yet she’s responsible for a lot of the trauma that Jacinta went through at an early age, which set the stage for Jacinta’s addiction. 

One of the things that surprised me while filming was Jacinta’s unshakable love and loyalty for her mother despite the things that her mother put her through. The film does not offer any easy answers for why this is, but the paradox of it has a lot to say about how trauma functions in families, and why it can be so difficult for people to overcome. 

I’d love for people to come away from the film with a better understanding of the binding force of trauma. 

With so much coverage on addiction, drug epidemic and incarceration in news headlines in recent years, how do you hope ‘Jacinta’ will be part of the cultural conversation shedding light on these issues in a personal way? 

From what I’ve seen of addiction coverage, the point of view is often from the perspective from the inner circle, the people affected by the person addicted. Most fiction film I’ve seen also come at from this angle. My hope is JACINTA can help people understand the deep root causes that lead to addiction and incarceration and think about alternative pathways to healing. 

Director Jessica Earnshaw, 2020


What was it like watching Jessica’s film for the first time and seeing your story on screen?

Watching the film for the first time was hard. I wasn’t 100% sure what was going to be in it, but with that said I didn’t remember much of the film the first time I watched it. Watching it now I’m able to see my personal growth.

It is clear that you and your family have a lot of love for each other, despite the struggles you have faced. Would you say this is part of what has kept you going in life? 

Yes, I believe the fact that my immediate family maintained hope and supported me when life wasn’t encouraging me to push forward and they allowed me to live on their hope until I was able to believe in myself. 

You are now doing a lot of advocacy work for other incarcerated individuals. What has this experience been like? 

I like to advocate for the still incarcerated, affected by incarceration and addiction so the inmates behind me don’t have to figure everything out on their own. The system is labeled Department of Corrections. I like to hold the institutions to their pledge to society. Locking someone away and expecting them to find their own answers is crazy. If we are /were capable of figuring life out on our own, then we wouldn’t need correctional institutions. 

What do you want viewers to know about incarcerated mothers, and the best way to offer support to them? 

Incarcerated or not, we love our children. There is always a bigger/deeper cause to why we are in the positions we are in. The best way to support an incarcerated mother is grant them the empathy they deserve. Not justifying their actions but knowing that if we could be in full control of our minds we wouldn’t just choose to leave our children, or be an addict or walk away from all of our dreams. 

For people who don’t understand addiction, what can you share that will encourage empathy? 

Addiction is not a factor of weak will or character — its an illness.

If there is a young woman watching your story, who has similar struggles with addiction, what advice would you give them about getting help or support? 

Much like I am asking of the world — drop your guard, your preconceived notions and ideas and be honest. Pray, not because recovery tells us to, but because your higher power is truly already within your soul—it’s trusting that, that is so foreign. 

Be sure to watch ‘Jacinta’, streaming now on Hulu.

Jacinta at Maine Correctional Center, 2016. Photo © Jessica Earnshaw

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