Mother Jones’ Documentary About Women Imprisoned in Oklahoma Wins Prestigious National Magazine Award

Mother Jones’ Documentary About Women Imprisoned in Oklahoma Wins Prestigious National Magazine Award

Mother Jones’ documentary about women being imprisoned in Oklahoma longer than their abusers won the prestigious National Magazine Award for best video during a March 28 gala in New York, sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors.

“This project demonstrates our commitment to exposing racial injustice and the problems plaguing our criminal justice system, and illustrates our desire to tell powerful stories in formats like video,” said Mother Jones Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery. “Our small but dedicated team spent more than 1,000 hours investigating, reporting, filming, and editing this shocking and unsettling story, and our hearts go out to Kerry King and so many other women of color in Oklahoma who have been particularly victimized under the state’s misguided law.”

The 17-minute documentary, “She Never Hurt Her Kids. So Why Is She in Prison?” was directed, filmed, and edited by Mark Helenowski and reported by Samantha Michaels, who also appears onscreen as its narrator. The film explores the story of Kerry King, a Black mother of four who is serving a 30-year prison sentence—12 years longer than her abuser—under Oklahoma’s “failure to protect” child abuse law. Several states have similar laws, but Oklahoma’s is one of the harshest in the country, in which parents can be sent to prison for life, with no exceptions for women who were abused themselves.

This year’s award-winning video is based on Michaels’ yearlong investigation of more than 1 million court records, which showed women in Oklahoma were being sent to prison for longer than the male partners who abused their children. Of hundreds of people charged since 2009 under Oklahoma’s law, at least 90 percent of those incarcerated were women, and disproportionately Black women. The American Society of Magazine Editors selected her story as a finalist in the reporting category.

In the film, Helenowski combines field shooting, archival materials, and scenes recreated from hours of trial audio and transcripts to depict the devastating effects of family separation caused by King’s incarceration. Additional credits include Sam Van Pykeren as Assistant Editor; Maddie Oatman as Story Editor; and James West as Producer.

Mother Jones’ video topped other finalists from The New Yorker, Insider, Eater, and Cook’s Illustrated. In 2013, Mother Jones won the American Society of Magazine Editors’ video award for its scoop about Mitt Romney, who said during the 2012 presidential campaign that 47 percent of Americans were victims and dependent on the government.

The annual awards honor media organizations, including magazines, websites, newspapers, and audio and video production companies, for editorial excellence across 17 categories and various platforms. This year, 243 national and regional media organizations competed in the awards.