Madeleine Sackler on Charles Lawrence, Emmy-Nominated Actor/Director

Madeleine Sackler

The incarcerated co-director of the HBO documentary died from COVID in jail, however his movie tells an pressing message.

As protests have swept the nation over the past a number of months, awakening extra individuals to the pressing name of Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 stays a relentless reminder of the inequities of our techniques. Disproportionately impacting individuals of shade, COVID-19 is specifically ravaging individuals locked inside our prisons, which itself disproportionately impacts individuals of shade.

Not too long ago, these techniques failed an expensive pal of mine. An actor, singer, and filmmaker who I labored with inside a jail, Charles Lawrence, needlessly died of COVID whereas incarcerated in a maximum-security jail in Indiana.

One of many movies we labored on collectively, “It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It,” was simply nominated for an Emmy, marking the primary time anybody in jail has made a nominated movie. “Hard Truth” was co-directed by 13 males from inside jail and launched by HBO. However many of those males don’t even know their movie was nominated. My congratulatory emails haven’t been obtained, and I don’t know if or when they are going to. So many in our movie and tv neighborhood are on the lookout for methods to create fairness and inclusion, however there are nonetheless far too some ways to depend how advantaged most filmmakers are in comparison with storytellers like the lads I labored with within the jail, who should share their tales.

I needed to jot down about Charles, a member of our filmmaking neighborhood, within the hopes that we’ll start to recollect the names of individuals in jail dying needlessly, together with all the opposite names of individuals of shade we’ve been remembering. Police brutality is a part of a broader interconnected set of techniques – the justice system, the jail system – all of which hurt individuals like Charles, reasonably than present care. Nobody deserves to be a statistic, and Charles is considered one of many in jail who has now obtained a dying sentence that he was by no means meant to serve. He wasn’t even allowed to talk to his spouse from the hospital earlier than he handed away.

The primary time I met Charles, he had this large smile. He was heat, curious, and trustworthy to the purpose of directness that I discovered refreshing, and he remained that means each time I noticed him, labored with him, and talked with him for the subsequent 5 years. He had a pair of black wraparound sun shades he wore rain or shine, and a deep, stunning voice he used to sing within the jail choir. He introduced a lot integrity to the entire work we did collectively.

I developed a partnership with the jail to make a fiction movie, writing, casting, and taking pictures inside its partitions. This movie was finally referred to as “O.G.,” and it co-stars Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”) and Theothus Carter, a younger man sentenced to 65 years. Many of the solid of “O.G.” are presently incarcerated.

Whereas creating “O.G.,” I taught a documentary filmmaking workshop, the place I first met Charles, who would go on to behave alongside Jeffrey in “O.G.” This workshop was so inspiring that we requested permission to make a second, nonfiction movie, and have been enthusiastically shocked when the jail agreed. This grew to become “It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It,” the primary movie launched by a significant community co-directed by individuals in jail.

The objective of each movies was to collaborate carefully with individuals in jail to inform their very own tales. Collectively, we labored to make as true a portrait of life in jail as doable and to get these first-person tales out of the jail partitions, which too typically preserve individuals silenced.

“It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It”


The 2 movies present two sides of the story of incarceration: the lads in “Hard Truth” direct their very own movie and interview one another to be able to perceive how they ended up in jail; “O.G.” tells the story on the opposite facet — a person is making ready to go away jail after a 24-year sentence.

Charles was one of many few individuals who helped me make each of those movies, and he’s eminently memorable in each. I solid him within the position of Patrick in “O.G.,” and as Len Amato, former President of HBO Movies, says, “The power of Charles Lawrence in ‘O.G.’ is amazing. His presence, authenticity, and integrity on screen transcend every moment he appears. He will be missed.”

At first, Charles was nervous about appearing, and I knew he wouldn’t need to take off these sun shades he wore across the clock. However I additionally sensed that he had such depth of feeling and emotion, and I needed him to be snug expressing it, so we talked about taking them off continuously.

We talked about it whereas taking pictures “Hard Truth,” and auditioning and working strains for “O.G.” “Just try it, for me.” Lastly, he took them off and checked out me. It was the primary time in nearly two years of realizing him that I had seen his eyes. “You have kind eyes,” I informed him. He checked out me with amazement. “People always say I have scary eyes. That I have thug eyes.” I disagreed, and I promised he would look good. He shot his scene in “O.G.” together with his sun shades off, though he had them again on as quickly as we wrapped.

The final time I wrote to Charles, I joked in regards to the “lockdown” occurring exterior. Charles responded together with his typical, upbeat, all-caps self: “SO HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE LOCKED DOWN?? SEE, ‘YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE IN PRISON, TO BE LOCKED UP’ (SMILE). TOILET PAPER! WE HAVE ‘PLENTY’ OF THAT HERE… THANKS FOR THE WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT AND YOUR RIGHT ‘WE WILL HAVE PLENTY OF STORIES TO TELL’ (SMILE).. STAY SAFE. UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN, I’M OUT. CHARLES..”

However I used to be not simply reaching out to Charles to child round. I used to be extraordinarily fearful about everybody in prisons liable to COVID-19, because it started to unfold throughout America.

What I didn’t know was that Charles was one of many individuals in danger. In reality, I assumed he would possibly be capable of get out this 12 months, however with a preexisting kidney situation, inside two weeks of his final e-mail, Charles was not handled in time, placed on a ventilator for in the future, after which handed away. I used to be shocked and heartbroken, as have been numerous others.

One other life misplaced. One other household in mourning.

It's a Hard Truth Ain't It HBO documentary

“It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It”


Most of the males within the jail who labored with me reached out after Charles handed away with reminiscences they requested me to share together with his spouse, Sanya, since they couldn’t attain her to assist her themselves. Quentis, who was additionally a co-director of “Hard Truth,” was Charles’ associate for lots of his interviews. “I have tears in my eyes, emotions of frustration rise,” he wrote. “My Brudda [Charles] did not have a death sentence or life without parole. So upon becoming detrimentally ill, he and all should be shown some compassion (let go). Bro turned his life around made a real transformation from hate in the streets to church and love and peace. And thats what truly matters.”

RuShawn and Franklin additionally labored on each of the movies. Franklin suffered from COVID-19 in jail and has bronchial asthma, however he survived, though he has been experiencing longer-term well being results. He writes, “The changes he made in life were admirable and will be remembered and celebrated forever. What happened to Charles was wrong and something needs to be done about it. As people we need to come together and make the necessary and profound changes the world needs. So situations like Charles dont happen again.”

RuShawn poignantly remembers one thing that I seen about Charles and his quiet management: “He encouraged me to be bigger than myself.”

On our final shoot of “Hard Truth,” I walked into the classroom and there was Charles, able to work as at all times. However this time, he wasn’t carrying his sun shades. He had an enormous grin. “There you go, Madeleine.” We had a giant snicker.

In Charles’ reminiscence, Al’Jonan, a co-director of “Hard Truth” and an incarcerated poet, gathered reminiscences of Charles from males across the jail and wrote them right into a poem, which says all of it.

“When I Think of Chuck”

Once I consider Chuck –– I’ll be eternally aware of how we embraced one another for assist, to find methods by means of the fog and the despair that distorts…We each agreed, that individuals have to look inside themselves for change, Chuck was really a cultivator, of each sort of grain…

Once I consider Chuck –– I take into consideration us coaching canines and a second we had, when he requested me for assist and I used to be shocked he requested…it boosted my confidence as a result of he affirmed my price, he acknowledged my potential and brought on it to emerge…

Once I consider Chuck –– I recall that my man was stable, he wasn’t actual to at least one however all people…He as soon as informed me to take advantage of my presents however I didn’t need to sing within the choir, however he inspired me to be larger than myself, and serving to others is important…

Once I consider Chuck –– he got here off cool in any setting, saved a constructive vibe and that smile, I received’t neglect it…I consider he’d nonetheless be alive if the state would have acquitted his case, a time served plea to Chuck was a slap within the face…

Once I consider Chuck –– I’m reminded of the burden pile, he informed me I used to be lifting mistaken, so in fact I put the burden down, and this was the primary time we met however he was real in his strategy, he’s been a blessing ever since, and that was 17 years in the past…

Once I consider Chuck –– he was somebody who wouldn’t mean you can settle, he was all about motivating you, to develop into higher…His dying disturbed me, boy was it heavy, he was my pal, and I miss him already…

Once I consider Chuck –– I contemplate robust love and twenty years of reminiscences, he was often known as “Big Chuck” to most, however God is aware of he was an expensive pal to me…Dying separated the threads and unstitched the materials of what we constructed, however he’ll at all times be part of my future, what I accomplish alongside this journey, is, his dream fulfilled…

Once I consider Chuck –– he was daring and real in his personal pores and skin, he picked you up when he gave out hugs, however his true energy got here from inside…when somebody like Chuck might be weak and reveal the love he has for his spouse, causes a hope to come up in you, as a result of he made all of it, appear alright…

Charles, Chuck, Sir Charles, we are going to miss you.

Devoted to Charles’ spouse, Sanya Lawrence, his daughter, JuDasha Sheets, his son, Charles Lawrence Jr, and his new grandson, Shavon Jr.

Contributors to this piece, so as of look: Charles Lawrence, Quentis Hardiman, Theothus Carter, Joseph Henderson, Franklin Cox, RuShawn Tanksley.

Contributors to the poem, written by Al’Jonan Coleman: Darnell Williams, Eric Simmons, RuShawn Tanksley, Ronald Covington, Corey Spurlock, Michael Vance, Mark Thacker, Steve Spears.

For extra poems written by Al’Jonan Coleman from inside jail, go to or

To assist the hassle to guard individuals in jail from Covid, view the JustLeadership marketing campaign, launched with the assistance of Charles’ spouse, Sanya.

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