ACEs In Prison: A New Documentary, Step Inside The Circle

“If you study prison populations as I have, you see a common preponderance of childhood trauma and mental illness. The two go together.   So a lot of the people are being punished for being mentally ill and they are mentally ill because they were traumatized as kids.  So what we have in [prisons] are the most traumatized people in our society.”                                                                                                                                                                     — Dr. Gabor Mate 

About the Video and the Documentary

On February 12, 2020, 23 Crew Members, including Academy-Award nominated Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto and Grammy-Award winning producer Fritzi Horstman, began filming the documentary “Step Inside the Circle.”

Filmed at a maximum security prison in Lancaster, California, the focus of the day was one of our cornerstones of prison reform: filming the Compassion Trauma Circle where 235 incarcerated men stepped inside the circle for each traumatic event they experience in their childhood.

Many of the men and women living behind bars aren’t aware of their Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Compassion Trauma Circle is one of the ways to raise awareness about what happens when the brain and body are traumatized before the age of 18. What naturally follows is an urgent call to change how we treat and care for these traumatized individuals, 95% of whom will one day become our neighbors again once they leave the prison walls. 

Those who have experienced the Compassion Trauma Circle and have learned about the symptoms of trauma feel a sense of relief and self-forgiveness. It has given them understanding about their past behavior and opens a doorway to forgiveness, making amends and healing.  

The film is a call to action: to spread the word about Adverse Childhood Trauma (ACEs), to understand the physical, emotional and social impact ACEs have wrought on our society and to stress the importance of care (not punishment) going forward in the criminal justice system.  

Visit the Compassion Prison Project.


Kindred’s Articles and Videos on ACES and Trauma

Kindred’s Resource Page on ACES and Trauma

Childhood Trauma Statistics

· 60% of adults report experiencing abuse or other difficult family circumstances during childhood. 

· 26% of children in the United States will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn four. 

· Four of every 10 children in American say they experienced a physical assault during the past year, with one in 10 receiving an assault-related injury. 

· 2% of all children experienced sexual assault or sexual abuse during the past year, with the rate at nearly 11% for girls aged 14 to 17. 

· Nearly 14%of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse. 

· 1 in 4 children was the victim of robbery, vandalism or theft during the previous year. 

· More than 13% of children reported being physically bullied, while more than 1 in 3 said they had been emotionally bullied. 

· 1 in 5 children witnessed violence in their family or the neighborhood during the previous year.

· In one year, 39% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 reported witnessing violence, 17%reported being a victim of physical assault and 8%reported being the victim of sexual assault. 

· More than 60% of youth age 17 and younger have been exposed to crime, violence and abuse either directly or indirectly. 

· More than 10% of youth age 17 and younger reported five or more exposures to violence. 

· About 10% of children suffered from child maltreatment, were injured in an assault, or witnessed a family member assault another family member. 

· About 25% of youth age 17 and younger were victims of robbery or witnessed a violent act.

· Nearly half of children and adolescents were assaulted at least once in the past year. 

· Among 536 elementary and middle school children surveyed in an inner city community, 30%had witnessed a stabbing and 26% had witnessed a shooting.

· Young children exposed to five or more significant adverse experiences in the first three years of childhood face a 76% likelihood of having one or more delays in their language, emotional or brain development.    

As the number of traumatic events experienced during childhood increases, the risk for the following health problems in adulthood increases: depression; alcoholism; drug abuse; suicide attempts; heart and liver diseases; pregnancy problems; high stress; uncontrollable anger; and family, financial, and job problems.     

People who have experienced trauma are:

· 15 times more likely to attempt suicide

· 4 times more likely to become an alcoholic

· 4 times more likely to develop a sexually transmitted disease

· 4 times more likely to inject drugs

· 3 times more likely to use antidepressant medication

· 3 times more likely to be absent from work

· 3 times more likely to experience depression

· 3 times more likely to have serious job problems

· 2.5 times more likely to smoke

· 2 times more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

· 2 times more likely to have a serious financial problem


1 Comment
  1. diane says

    Thank you for the Step inside of the circle” It blessed me. So many people,, have gone thru trauma,,,,,I wish to save the world. It kills me to know so many are incarcerated,,not because they are ‘bad’ They never had a chance.

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