By Grace Yurish

On Monday, April 29, nearly 200 people gathered for a film screening hosted by the Friends of New Hampshire Drug Courts (FNHDC) of a documentary titled The 50. The film explores how trauma impacts lives and the importance of recovery programs for inmates. The New Hampshire Bar Foundation sponsored the venue, the Nashua Center for the Arts, which was filled with members of the Bench, the Bar, and surrounding communities.

The evening began with introductory remarks from New Hampshire Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn, who also presides over the Nashua Drug Court. She welcomed attendees, recognizing several judges, New Hampshire Department of Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks, and a few of the film’s cast members who participated in a post-screening panel moderated by retired Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau.

“It was a tremendous success given how many people showed up, and the diversity of the crowd,” says FNHDC President Anthony Naro. “I think that’s also reflected in the diversity of the sponsorships. It’s a testament to how committed New Hampshire is to fighting substance use disorder and helping people in recovery.”

Nearly 200 people gathered at the Nashua Center for the Arts to support the Friends of New Hampshire Drug Courts and view The 50. Photo by Grace Yurish
The 50 cast members, Kathryn Jett (left) and Randy Carter (middle), participating in a post-screening panel moderated by Retired Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau. Photo by Grace Yurish

Directed by Brenton Gieser, The 50 is the story of hope, redemption, and change. In a world where prisons often perpetuate cycles of anger and violence, a unique program is breaking the mold. Through re-enactments and real-life stories, the film sheds light on the transformative journey of the first 50 participants in the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP), a beacon of hope in California’s correctional system.

The film begins by taking its audience to the California prison system in 2006 – plagued by overcrowding and substance abuse. This triggered federal intervention with Assembly Bill 900 leading to the inception of the OMCP, aimed at rehabilitating those serving life or long-term sentences into certified substance abuse counselors.

“When we started dealing with AB 900, we realized that 85 percent of inmates that were in prison indulged in the drug culture,” explains Sol Irving, the founder of the OMCP, which in 2008 had its first 50 participants at Solano State Prison.

The OMCP, now in its eighth program session at Solano, takes its participants through what is called a “parallel process,” helping them develop the skills to help others while simultaneously working on themselves – evaluating the pain they have experienced and caused. Key figures like Kimberly Chu, head of OMCP at Solano, emphasize the importance of addressing deep-seated issues that led individuals to prison.

The program’s impact extends beyond individual transformation. It fosters a community where inmates can openly discuss their struggles, breaking down barriers and reducing negative behaviors. Throughout the film, viewers hear the stories of those who have been through the program and those who are on that same journey. The main characters included three of the first 50 men – Cameron Clark, Al Roensch, and Randy Carter.

Clark reflects on his journey from a troubled past to becoming the founder and executive director of DOVE (Developing Organizing Visions for Everyone), a non-profit aiding formerly incarcerated individuals with re-entry into society. He grew up in an abusive household, leading him to join a gang in Compton, California, when he was just 13 years old. Clark was given a life sentence because of gang violence wherein he was an accessory to second-degree murder. He spent years in prison before starting his personal transformation.

Entering the program was a difficult choice for many participants and it posed a significant challenge. It meant relocating to a separate unit – once more detached from their familiar lives – and they were exposed to potential hostility from other inmates.

“Prisons are the powerbase for gangs,” says Solano Senior Corrections Officer Paul Medina. “It makes it very hard for an inmate to step away from the politics in here. It puts a target on their back.”

But the OMCP started to change the atmosphere of the prison and the people in it, explains Kathryn Jett, former undersecretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“You had to change the attitude of the prison itself to give people hope,” Jett says. “Even people that didn’t have hope could gain hope in prison. That’s what we found in this program. It broke all rules, yet that was the program that demonstrated that you could change, and that you could actually go out into the community and sustain a life.”

Over the last ten years, California’s recidivism rate has hung around 50 percent. But for paroled OMCP graduates, the rate is less than one percent.

Al Roensch, another of the film’s main cast members, spent 19 years in prison for a violent attack on a close friend. As a member of the first 50, he graduated college and became a drug and alcohol counselor. Today, Roensch is a minister and counselor at his local church. He reflects on the program’s impact on his life outside prison.

“[In the program] you had to dig deep into your life,” he says. “You had to confront the pain, the emotions, and the trauma – things in the past that you hadn’t really looked at before. I think that has continued into life back out in society for all of us.”

The film also highlights Randy Carter, who suffered abuse at the hands of his stepfather, which was ignored by his mother. At the age of 19, he killed a man during an altercation – his first time holding a gun. Carter served 35 years in prison but turned his life around in the OMCP, ultimately becoming a certified drug and alcohol counselor and one of the top students in his class.

“There’s nothing that I can say or do to bring Eddie back,” Carter says of the incident that put him behind bars. “The thing I did do was try to change my life, to be a better person, and take responsibility for what I did.”

Those 50 trailblazers set the path for others like them to become healers. Today, more than 500 men and women have graduated from OMCP, and many have rejoined their communities as social service providers for people in recovery.

“We are experts in the field when it comes to loneliness, hurt, and pain,” Clark says at the end of the film to the OMCP’s newest graduates. “If we had the right support, if we had the right love and acknowledgment, if we had the right education and therapy, we could ultimately become the greatest healers of our society.”

After the film ended, Justice Nadeau moderated a discussion with Jett and Carter to conclude the evening. The audience was able to ask the cast members questions about their experiences. One drug court candidate in attendance noted how watching this film gave him the inspiration to continue the work he’s been doing on his journey to recovery. Questions were also raised on how to implement such an unprecedented program.

“If you don’t think outside of the box and take brave steps, you’re just going to get the same results,” Naro says. “That’s what I hope was conveyed to some of the stakeholders who were in attendance. I hope this starts a conversation, and I think it already has.”

The event raised approximately $20,000 for FNHDC, which provides financial assistance to drug court participants to help them overcome the economic barriers to recovery. To learn more about the FNHDC, visit