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“16 BARS” Music for Freedom



Review by John Delia

Finding a way to be free may seem easy for some, but those that lose their way find it very difficult to earn back their freedom. That’s the premise of the documentary 16 Bars. But even though they do make it out of the prisons that hold them, learning how to not return to incarceration helps to defeat recidivism. Looking into the prison life using an experimental idea, Todd “Speech” Thomas goes into the confines of Richmond Prison to offer some light at the end of the tunnel.

Garland Carr at the Richmond City Justice Center in 16 BARS

The film follows four inmates Anthony Johnston, Garland Carr, De’Vonte James, and Teddy Kane who are serving terms or back on the street following incarceration at the Richmond City Justice Center for crimes that very from drugs to robbery. As a man with an idea, Grammy Award winning recording artist Speech Thomas thinks he can help inmates find their way through music. His program, a music workshop, will take him into the confines of the city jail where he will initially visit for 14 days in an attempt to contact those who want to show their skills in the field of music. Its Speech’s hope that they will find something that will give them a future that may be a lot brighter than the life that put them behind bars.

This is their story filmed as a documentary that is touching, revealing and delivers a message about recidivism. Directed by Sam Bathrick, the film delves into personalities, background, and crimes of the four inmates and shows how Speech works with them in his workshop. It’s an eye-opener for those who are unaware of the plight of those caught up in the opioid crisis, lack of mental health services and generations of poverty. Although it shows that it’s a matter of choice in some cases, it’s not an easy task to deliver the proper education and resolve the difficulties brought on by improper parenting. He shows that through music that some can reach a level of respect and turn their lives around.

Todd “Speech” Thomas at the Richmond City Justice Center in 16 BARS

The film is nicely produced with very good production qualities, an excellent interpersonal script, and the meaningful results of the project that Speech Thomas conveys. There are so many inmates reaching out for help, and it only shows a few in the film who take advantage of the music workshop. But, it does open dialogue that should resonate to others who can help within local city jails and even prisons.

Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend.  The message of recidivism is an important one here and the film points out how difficult it is for offenders to reenter their community due to a lack of skills, available business that will hire them, living conditions that they have to go back to and lack of funds to be on their own. I may have missed reasons, but the film shows through the four different stories that the points being made here are real and need attention.

Garland Carr bringing his guitar to the music workshop at the Richmond City Justice Center in 16 BARS


“Q&A” at DocLands Screening, Director Sam Bathrick introduces his film to the audience. Following the screening of the film he calls Speech Thomas and Teddy Kane and his mother along with others who have worked on the film for a question and answer period.
“Inspire” Teddy Kane music video
“Lost One” Teddy Kane music video
“Freedom Wind” Garland Carr music video
“Lay My Burden Down” Garland Carr music video

Todd “Speech” Thomas at the Richmond City Justice Center in 16 BARS

The film has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains language.

FINAL ANALYSIS: An eye-opener and an important message. (4 out of 5 Stars)

Specifications and additional video information:
Cast: Todd “Speech” Thomas, Garland T. Carr, De’Vonte James, Anthony Johnston, Teddy Kane
Featuring the Music of: Todd “Speech” Thomas, Tennyson Jackson, Garland Carr, De’Vonte James, Anthony Johnston, and Samuel Bathrick
Directed by: Sam Bathrick
Genre: Documentary, Music
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, contains language
Running Time: 1 hr. 24 min.
Video Release Date: February 7, 2020
Original Theatrical Release Date:
Language: English
Reviewed Format: DVD
Audio: Dolby Digtial 5.1 Surround
Video: Widescreen, Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Subtitles: Closed Captions
Distributed by: MVD Entertainment Group
Released on: DVD

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