Main content

Girls on the Wall

The teenage girls of Warrenville Prison get a shot at redemption in a most unlikely form: a musical based on their lives. As three fascinating girls write and stage their play, they're compelled to re-live their crimes, reclaim their humanity and take a first step toward breaking free of the prison system.

Meet WHITNEY (17)€š "the eyes and ears of Warrenville", and our unexpected heroine. Intimidating, self-isolating, and one of Warrenville's longest-term inmates, Whitney is infamous for a crime she won't talk about. Despite herself, she soon emerges as one of the most powerful storytellers in the group. Her writing introduces us to her charming, drug-addled father, a man whose mistakes paved the way to his daughter's heinous crime. As the performance approaches, Whitney's growing voice may lead both of them to confront the past and try to move forward.

ROSA (17) is a hot-tempered girl who taunts guards and inmates alike. Released from Warrenville, she returns weeks later after getting nearly killed in a knife fight. With a constant reminder of her temper carved into her throat, she is forced to grapple with the sexual abuse that is the source of her anger.

CHRISTINA (18) is a friendly, popular girl whose only crime is running away. Drawn into street life by her mother's crack habit, she's spent most of her life in jails and foster placements. When she gets a chance for adoption by a wealthy Christian family, she jumps at it-- but can't reconcile her new upper-middle class life with her loyalty to her mother's world.

When the girls hit the stage in front of their families, prison staff and utter strangers, hitting the notes isn't important: it's their chance to seize their stories and tell them to the world. For some, the musical will be a first step in a back-and-forth struggle to stay out of the system. For Whitney, it may be a lifesaver. Given unprecedented access to this juvenile correctional facility by the State of Illinois, the powerful characters of GIRLS ON THE WALL will surprise you with their candor, intimacy, and unexpected sense of humor. Together, they illustrate the power of storytelling to illuminate the darkest secrets, and to understand the most tangled lives.

"Nothing short of powerful." LA Times
"It's strong stuff." Philadelphia Inquirer
"You become a witness to inner change, and that change is initiated by the act of storytelling. An excellent film." -Huffington Post
"An amazing documentary." Time Out Chicago
"How can you not be inspired?" - Philadelphia City Paper
"Paints an unforgettable portrait detailing the empowerment to be found in self-expression... One of the more stirring works you will see all year." -Anchorage Press
"Outstanding" – WBEZ Chicago Public Radio

2010 Emmy, Best Documentary of Current Significance
NATAS Midwest Best Documentary
Bermuda International Film Festival
Silver Chicago Award, Chicago International Film Festival


Main credits

Ross, Heather (Producer)
Ross, Heather (Screenwriter)
Ross, Heather (Director)
Ross, Heather (Cinematographer)
Janata, Julie (Producer)
Abrams, Kevin (Film editor)
Hernstadt, Stephanie (Film editor)
Pak, Woodrow (mus)

Other credits

Camera, Heather Ross ... [et al.]; editors, Kevin Abrams, Stephanie Hernstadt; music composer, Woody Pak.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Drama and Theater
Youth Issues
Women's Studies


prison; musical; theatre; jail; writing; young adult; teenager; girls; social justice; incarceration; arts therapy; arts education; music education; creative writing; "Girls on the Wall"; Heather Ross;

Related Films

A Sentence for Two

The film contrasts the stories of prison inmates who are forced to give…