The House I Live In

A scene from The House I Live In. (BBC Films image / March 13, 2013)

Part of the reason Jarecki's film is so powerful is that he's able to show how the drug culture — fostered in part by the War on Drugs itself — has destroyed generation after generation of African-American families.

Some of his most powerful and poignant scenes are those with Nanny Jeter as she describes what drugs have done to her family, including taking the life of her son James.

Connecticut and other states have already begun efforts to reduce the number of nonviolent drug offenders being sent to prison. Jarecki concludes his film by noting some recent indications that public policy can be changed, such as the recent congressional approval of lessening ridiculously harsh penalties for crack cocaine.

Former state Rep. Bill Dyson of New Haven is an African-American politician who has for years been pushing for reform in sentencing laws and programs to help nonviolent offenders avoid the endless cycle of prison and crime. He feels The House I Live In is drawing attention to this issue at a critical time.

Dyson says one aspect of Jarecki's film shows how the War on Drugs "became an issue one could win elections on," with the result that political support has continued in the face of long-term failure.

"It's been devastating in the lives of people, in the opportunities missed… in the impact it's had on our communities," Dyson says. But, like the film, Dyson believes "there's been a glimmer of hope lingering out there for a while."

He says the need now is to "continue to focus attention on the issue" so that the campaign for reform doesn't falter.

Perhaps if more pro-War on Drugs politicians sat down and watched The House I Live In, they might find a bit more courage to declare an armistice.

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