In a 52-minute titled “Les caresses de l’ombre” broadcast this Thursday evening at 10:45 p.m. on France 3 Bretagne, the documentary filmmaker Danièle Alet shows how mediation by horses helps prisoners completing long sentences to prepare for their release. Exciting.
Actu-Juridique : How did the idea of dealing with the subject of horse mediation in prison come about?
Danièle Alet: As often, by chance encounters. I discovered the Adrienne and Pierre Sommer foundation, which has been working for fifty years for animal mediation, particularly in the prison environment, with dogs, and, more surprisingly for me, horses. I was intrigued, I wanted to understand how these animals of such an imposing stature could become mediators and so I entered the world of “inhuman gentleness”. The project was launched before the health crisis and then suspended due to the confinements, which allowed everyone to understand what it was like to lose contact with the outside, people, nature, the animal world… interested me to explore this link with the living, which in my opinion, our time has largely broken.
Justice-related topics have interested me for a long time. In 2016, I directed “Be a judge and… Shut up? on the taboo of suicide and harassment in the judiciary; I also observed for more than a year multiple recidivist minors at the closed educational center of Doudeville, which gave birth to “Special center for rebellious girls”. Finally, in my documentary on the history of war rapes, I address the question of the evolution of international justice. We need justice, but also to know how it works, and especially if it works…
Actu-Juridique: “Les caresses de l’ombre” focus on the preparation for the release of women sentenced to long sentences, why is it necessary to accompany a release?
AD. : It’s difficult to be locked up for years in a cell of 7m2, everyone knows it. But confinement also showed us how complicated it could be to resume a normal life after confinement. It’s the whole question of inside/outside that is exciting to explore. Confinement deprives of freedom but at the same time secures, while freedom allows everything, but “everything is possible” can make you dizzy. These women have paid their debt to society, most of them are ready to go out, but it is not as easy as one imagines. In prison, we know that day and night we can call someone, while outside, they know that they will be alone, with the weight of the past, the anguish of the future and sometimes without even power. for some, counting on a family because of the fractures generated by the ordeal of justice and prison. Going out in these conditions is frightening.
Actu-Juridique: What role does the animal play in what you are describing?
AD. : Catherine Mercier, whom we follow in the documentary, was a psychologist for 19 years at the CPF in Rennes, before creating these equine mediation programs. The idea came to her when she was confronted with an inmate who refused to come out at the end of her very long sentence and threatened to commit a new crime in order to return to prison. As this woman loved animals, the psychologist had the idea of bringing one of her horses to the establishment. The method was immediately a success, the inmate was released and everything went very well for her, contrary to what she feared. This is how mediation developed in Rennes, supported by the Adrienne and Pierre Sommer Foundation and the prison administration.
The animal is there, it does not judge, and its presence alone manages to touch the depth of the soul. It’s beyond words, animal mediation is something that can’t be explained, you have to show it. In the documentary, for example, we see a horse approaching one of the inmates, Roselyne, and putting its mouth on her head as if to kiss her. Roselyne breaks down, starts to cry because all of a sudden, the horse’s attitude has brought out everything that was hurting her and that she had buried deep inside her: the lack of love, the very damaged self-esteem… By repairing this link with herself, she feels capable of recreating links with others. Animal mediation makes it possible to accomplish this work.
Legal News: The four detainees you are following have agreed to testify openly…
AD. : They thought about it for a long time, and if they finally accepted, it was because they felt they had paid their debt to society and they wanted to be seen as the citizens they were going to become again.
Actu-Juridique: It’s not easy to film in prison, but you succeeded…
AD. : The prison administration authorized me to carry out scouting from July to December 2019. It’s a chance. I was also supported in my approach by the remarkable director of the establishment, Véronique Sousset, by Catherine Mercier and her team of course and all the prison staff, but also by Aligal production and F3 Bretagne. This was invaluable during the three years that this work lasted, several times interrupted by the health crisis. We were finally able to shoot in July 2021 and I finished post-production last March.
Of course, I am sad that the region refused to financially support this film, which was made with little means and with the support and trust of many “beautiful people” as they say.
Available in replay on the France TV site until June 26 here.