At 18, Caprysha Anderson has been in over 15 different homes, she’s single-handedly raised herself and her younger siblings, she’s been in and out of jail, and will readily admit she’s turned to selling drugs to put food on the table for herself and her family.  Caprysha is only one of a handful of troubled teens and young adults in Chicago who were featured in the award winning documentary The Interrupters.  The film follows a group of ex-convict, ex-gangster activists known as the “violence interrupters” who work for the organization Cease Fire at the University of Illinois as they walk the streets of some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods trying to minimize the violence in these communities one young person at a time.

Ameena and Caprysha in 'The Interrupters'

In one scene Ameena Matthews, one of the violence interrupters, takes Caprysha to ride a carousel at a local carnival after learning she had never done so before in her life.  She then treats her to a manicure and the young girl nearly breaks down in tears because she’s never experienced this before.  Another interrupter, Eddie Bocanegra confronts the guilt of having murdered a rival gang member as a teen by visiting the grave sites of other gang violence victims as an adult and by using his experience to rescue other young people.  One of the young people he’s working with is Vanessa Villalba, a 14 year old who watched her 15 year old brother die in her arms after he was shot in the head.  She’s not doing so great in school and is guilt ridden about not being able to do more to help her brother.

This film, which aired last night on PBS’ Frontline, hit very close to home for me having grown up around both gangs and the poverty that many times leads to desperation.  Suffice it to say there were more than a couple of times I got all choked up from the raw emotion and honesty of the documentary.

Gang violence and the risks of gang affiliation are something we definitely don’t talk about enough in our communities.  Until it affects us personally, we don’t understand how devastating it can be not only to the individuals in a gang, but to their families and our entire society.  What this film does best is confront us with the reality of this epidemic, the tragedy that it can cause and the raw emotion of not knowing what else to do when gangs and violence are all you know.  In characters like Lil Mikey, an ex convict who struggles to find a job after serving three years in jail; Flamo, a 32 year old ex gang-banger whose spent 15 years of his life in jail; and Caprysha, we experience the personal struggle of starting over and vying for a second chance… in some instances a first chance at actually living life.

One scene that’s especially poignant is when Lil Mikey goes back to the barber shop he held up three years earlier to apologize to the owners.  The owner of the business, a mother, scolds him through tears for having traumatized her family and finally forgives him with a hug.  The testimonies of the violence interrupters are pretty powerful as well.

The Interrupters is a beautiful and important film that will make you laugh, cry and think.  If you haven’t already watched it, do yourself a favor and watch it now!

Watch The Interrupters (Graphic Language) on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

This is not a sponsored post. I did not receive any compensation for the content of this entry. All of the opinions are my own.