The Sentence

Movie review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Sentence Movie Poster Image
Poignant docu about mandatory minimum imprisonment.
  • PG
  • 2018
  • 85 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Highlights the real consequences mandatory minimum sentences can have on people’s everyday lives. The importance of family, staying strong, and being positive are also themes. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The family does what it can to support Cindy and to raise her children. Cindy is a committed mother, even from prison. 


The violent death of Cindy Shank’s former boyfriend is briefly mentioned. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drug dealing discussed; Cindy Shanks is convicted for conspiracy to sell cocaine. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Sentence is an emotional documentary that follows the far-reaching impact of the long-term incarceration of wife and mother Cindy Shank due to federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The details of her non-violent crime, which is associated with drug dealing and a killing, are briefly discussed, but most of the focus is on the consequences her absence has on her children. 

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What's the story?

THE SENTENCE is a documentary about the consequences of mandatory-minimum sentencing. Director Rudy Valdez’s older sister, Cindy Shank, was a wife and mother of three small children when she was charged and convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine for not reporting a late boyfriend’s criminal activity to the police years before. Thanks to federal minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines, she was sent to a federal work camp for 15 years. Valdez’s cameras follow their extended family, which includes their parents, Cindy’s husband Adam, and their three daughters, as they cope with living their lives without her, and with trying to secure her release. 

Is it any good?

The poignant documentary offers a very personal glimpse into the lives of a family who pays a high price for the mandatory long-term incarceration of a loved one for a non-violent offense. The film, which won the Audience Favorite Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, was shot over approximately ten years. It began as a compilation of home movies meant to record Cindy Shank’s daughters’ lives while she was serving her sentence. But what it captures is the toll it takes on her loved ones, and how her children are sentenced to grow up without her until her pardon in 2016. 

The Sentence contains some very emotional moments. However, despite some brief interview footage with lawyers and others involved with Cindy Shank’s case, it offers few details about their almost-decade long legal battle. It doesn’t spend a significant amount of time addressing the overall strain mandatory minimum sentencing is having on the U.S. penal system, and the impact it particularly has on women. What it does do, however, is underscore the fact that these laws have very real and damaging consequences that are both unfair and unnecessary, from an intimate point of view.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mandatory minimum sentencing. What was the intention behind putting these kinds of laws put into place? What are the resulting problems?

  • How would you feel if you lost a member of your family for a certain amount of time? How do you think families deal with the strain of a mother or father in prison? 

Movie details

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