Presented by: Hallmark Hall of Fame
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In a day and age where leading government officials are telling us that our juvenile detention systems are broken - no longer straightening out our juvenile delinquents, but instead churning out a new breed of criminal - the call has been raised to revoke funding and/or close them all over the nation. Then along comes a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that shows us what can be done if a little more effort and faith were put into these programs, meant to give wayward juveniles a chance at redemption rather than a life in prison.
Firelight stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. as D.J., a counselor at a women’s correctional center. In addition to the GED Program and other regular programs designed to mold incarcerated youths into productive members of society, D.J. is in charge of a groundbreaking program designed to build the girls’ self-esteem and give them a sense of purpose. Taught how to fight forest fires, the young women work side by side with actual firefighters on such dangerous actions as fighting out of control brush fires and rescue operations.
As this elite team finds itself in a shortage of recruits and possibly on the verge of shutting down, a new inmate named Caroline (Q’orianka Kilcher) arrives, challenging D.J. in ways he hasn’t been challenged in quite some time. He sees an intelligent girl in Caroline with abilities even she has no idea she possesses and a need for this elite program no one else sees, not even Caroline herself.
Caroline’s first day at the correctional center is disconcerting and she finds herself hooking up with the same sort of people she hooked up with on the outside - people who offer a false sense of security, but are really only using her for their own goals and keeping her on a tight leash.
It isn’t until she begins a tentative friendship with Terry Easle (DeWanda Wise), leader of the inmates’ firefighting crew, otherwise known as Crew Nine, that Caroline begins to make sense of the lies she has been telling herself for years. Terry turns Caroline on to Socrates and his allegory of The Cave gets Caroline thinking about her incarceration and what got her there in the first place. While Caroline tries to decide what course is best for her to take, Terry tries to figure out how to impress the parole board so she can be released early in time to help her dying mother (Maria Howell).
One of the key points in this film is that redemption can only come through the person that needs redeeming. However, that person can’t do it alone and will need others to believe in them and care enough to help point them in the right direction. That’s why this firefighting program is so instrumental - it teaches the girls patience, belief in one’s self-worth and abilities, and forces them to set goals. Of course, like any other program, it is not foolproof as we witness with the return of Keisha (Yakini Horn), who still doesn’t have the tools she needs to make it on the outside. There are still some issues that each girl must work out for themselves before the program can truly succeed. When it does, it reminds us how important programs like these are to girls who get themselves into these situations.
Taking away funding or closing down programs like these are the reasons why juvenile detention facilities fail. When given no other options other than GED classes and group therapy, the offender sees no ability to work their way out of their individual situation. They see no avenue of escape for the life that got them incarcerated in the first place.
Firelight is not just one of those Hallmark Hall of Fame films designed to make you cry - though you should be aware that strong performances by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Q’orianka Kilcher and DeWanda Wise will cause you to need a supply of Kleenex to watch this movie. Fireside is designed to show you what belief in another being can do for that person. The strength that this belief instills in the other person, if they are receptive, will go along way in helping them on their personal journey for redemption.