Emmanuel Son, Staff Writer
On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Joanne Hershfield, researcher, filmmaker, and Emeritus Professor of Women and Gender studies, presented a documentary she had made. “Benevolence” was filmed over four years, following five women who had just been released from prison and are trying to reintegrate into society by doing work on a farm to contribute to their community in North Carolina.
Joanne Hershfield explains that “Benevolence” focuses on a farm located in North Carolina for former female inmates. These women work on the farm in exchange for housing and the services that they need.
“The goal of farming for women is to learn about integrating into society,” says one of the women shown in the documentary.
For example, the farm could provide the former inmates with everything from medication to spiritual support and job training.
When asked about the popularity about the farm, Herfisheld explains, “this is a local [North Carolina] topic but it addressed a national issue.”
One topic covered in the film is mass incarceration. Hershfield hopes that viewers become aware of mass incarceration rates in the developed world. Another idea that Hershfield hopes to share are the kinds of people who are in the United States prisons and what it is like for most ex-convicts coming out of prison life, and where they go from there.
William Stadler, Ph.D. also weighed in on the incarceration issue by adding, “the United States represents five percent of the world’s population, but we incarcerate 25 percent of the world’s prisoners,” describing this as a disproportionate share.
Another concern of Stadler is the lack of the public thinking about what happens to people when we put them in jail or prison and what happens after.
The Benevolence Farm is located in Alamance County, North Carolina. The farm was founded in 2008 when Tanya Jisa, the founder of the farm, felt that women who were just getting out of prison needed a place for social interaction and basic support. The mission of Benevolence Farm is to cultivate leadership, promote sustainable livelihoods, and reap structural change with individuals impacted by the criminal justice system in North Carolina.
According to a woman in Hershfield’s documentary, “The reality is that Benevolence Farm is in an area where there is still racial tension.”
Benevolence Farm strives to make sure that these women feel comfortable and practice being able to get back to a normal life with work and finding family. A unique aspect then went noticed about Benevolence is that it focuses on the four main benedictine values taught at Saint Martin’s University: Faith, reason, service, and community. The women when at the farm, have faith in their opportunity for a better life. Because of their faith in a better life, this gives the women a reason to keep on trying at life. They will try to do their best by readapting into the daily life outside of prison by doing basic services to share with their community.