In 2008 there was an ominous early morning knock on the door of the Shank family home in Lansing, Michigan. Cindy, mother of Autumn (6), Ava (2) and Annalise (under a year), and wife to Adam, answered the door. Federal agents were there to arrest Cindy on conspiracy charges related to the time she was a live-in girlfriend to a drug dealer named Alex. After Alex’s murder state and federal charges were brought against Cindy; as the girlfriend she was charged with the same offences that Alex would have faced. Those charges were dropped, however, because she refused to accept plea deals for crimes she did not commit.
But the feds persisted. After her arrest they offered a plea deal: 13 years for pleading guilty. Cindy refused because she did not commit the crimes. She was found guilty at trial and sentenced to a mandatory sentence of 15 years. She admits she knew about Alex’s activities and she did not report them.
The film, by Cindy’s brother Rudy Valdez, opens with scenes of Alex and his daughters talking to their mom on the phone. This scene is repeated over as the years pass.
Filmmaker Rudy Valdez and his sister, Cindy Shank
Thanks to HBO
“The Sentence,” winner of the Audience Award at Sundance in January 2018, focuses on the mandated sentence that Cindy received and how the severity of it affected her children, her marriage and her family.
When Cindy’s appeals ran out she petitioned for clemency in 2016. 36,000 inmates (sentenced for non-violent crimes related to drugs) qualified for clemency but then President Obama granted clemency for only 1,600. Cindy’s journey, her determination to do well despite everything, is a human triumph.
And the U.S. prison mill just keeps on grinding away.