Beyond the odd statistic here and there, or the little we can infer from shows like Orange Is The New Black, most of us know very little about women and the criminal justice system. Needless to say, the reality isn't as pleasingly packaged as the popular Netflix story arch and there are actual humans behind the figures – 48 percent of women leaving prison are re-convicted within a year – that are infrequently reported.
Taking the criminal justice system as the uniting theme, On The Edge, a new trilogy of 30-minute dramas created by three up-and-coming female writers, offers a 360° view of what life is really like for women in Britain's complex (and unyielding) crime and punishment network.
In the first film we're offered the criminal perspective. On The Edge: Through The Gates follows Aimee, a young woman who has spent most of her years in and out of prison. While we're not told exactly what Aimee did to find herself behind bars, as we watch her story unfolds. She is released and tasked with re-adjusting to life in the outside world we're given a sharp and unforgiving view of the circumstances that continue to work against her. With no parents to turn to and a grandmother who's surpassed her tolerance limit, Aimee's left homeless, jobless and with no one to depend upon other than Tessa, an empathetic parole officer who's life has fallen into a similarly cyclical pattern that's proving difficult to break.
It's frustrating to watch, but that frustration comes from the dysfunctional systems that Aimee and Tessa struggle to navigate. Your heart bleeds for Tessa as she defies her dirtbag boss to bend to the will and needs of the angry and vulnerable young woman who has quickly become her responsibility. Your chest tightens every time Aimee is rejected despite her best (and occasionally misguided) attempts to reconnect with society. What do we learn? That the system isn't built to accommodate the varying needs of offenders, specifically young women, who require more support than a quick meeting and signing of a document offers when they leave custody.
On The Edge: A Mother's Love takes the challenging view point of the witness. Single mum Josephine is desperate to protect her 11-year-old son Ishmael from the fate of his imprisoned older brother. Ishmael witnesses a gang crime on their estate, is asked to testify against the killer and is relocated to the middle class home of his mum's sister, Claudia.
There's a lot at play here. Beneath the surface where Ishmael's narrative as the young black boy caught up in the type of incident that often reduces a community of men to unfortunate statistics plays out, is the influence of class and prejudice.
This is a story of social allegiances as much as it is the murder case itself. And, as reiterated by the painfully difficult choices Josephine is forced to make, a disproportionate amount of that pressure often falls on the mother suddenly facing the consequences of her child's decisions.
The final instalment is hard to watch but, much like the two before it, is incredibly important and upsettingly common. On The Edge: That Girl documents the raw and chaotic story of a young woman who we later learn to have been the victim of an unreported crime. Ashley likes to party hard, and is living with her comparatively tame best friend Becca and her boyfriend. Through a series of incidents on messy nights out Becca is triggered into facing the incident that she's tried to forget and her life begins to spiral.
The drinking gets heavier, the drug taking more troublesome and the worrying interactions with men points towards what might have happened in Ashley's past. But as the clues are put together and we slowly come to realise what Ashley might be suffering as the devastating motivation for her erratic behaviour becomes clear.
The first two instalments of On The Edge are on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm. On The Edge: That Girl airs Wednesday 15th August at 10:30pm.
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