Eugene Jarecki, of Why We Fight, brings together the Wire creator, David Simon, criminal justice professors at Harvard and Columbia, a somewhat remorseful judge, drug cops, and a number of convicted drug dealers, addicts and petty criminals in one of the best documentaries since Inside Job. Inspired by the life of his childhood nanny, and her children’s spiral into drugs, Jarecki looks at issues of class that divide us into seriously segmented groups. The underprivileged, under-achieving, misguided versus the well-adjusted, life of opportunities upwardly mobile.
Jarecki provides more than a rich history of the “drug wars” in America from the 1960’s through the present day, offering a look at the public and political reaction to each new drug to hit the streets from marijuana to crystal meth. He asks tough questions, but more importantly, he looks at the demographics of people who are most likely to end up in the system to live out their lives of mind numbing routine and excruciating isolation from behind bars.
There are two vital elements that serve as the undercurrent to his work.
First, is the corruption of cops in a system that provides financial reward for number of drugs arrests. Instead of cracking murder cases, hard crime, and robberies, cops have an incentive to bust petty dealers in a hook ‘em and book ‘em routine. This has led to years of a perpetuating cycle where cops look for someone to bust for a cash reward. In one case, a new cop car was financed directly with recovered drug money in Texas.
The second issue is more nuanced and personal. While Nanny was taking care of young Eugene in New York, her own children, left behind in new Haven, Connecticut, suffered without a mother. Torn between providing for them, and being with them, Nanny went to New York to make more money and spend her days raising privileged white children instead of her own. This is an issue that plagues the playgrounds of Central Park, Hyde Park, and other wealthy regions of the world where both immigrant mothers and the working poor spend all day with someone else’s child, while in some form neglecting their own. Being a nanny is not a 9-5 gig. You arrive before the parents leave in the morning, and you leave after they return. You are expected to do the things you cannot do for your own children for the one’s you’re getting paid to care for. This is a choice made by both sides, and a complex issue from either angle. But either way, its a problem.
The House I Live In has characters whose lives and motivations you want to know more about. It presents the criminally convicted in a way that you hope for them, (mostly) only the best. Jarecki’s emotion for storytelling and justice shine through in the most controlled, and loyal way, and hopefully he’ll be a name in documentary film making long into the future.