Post Traumatic Stress is never fully "Post"

In a moving and perceptive new essay for the Frontline PBS website, The Interrupters producer Alex Kotlowitz makes a convincing argument for the enduring, debilitating effects of trauma. Kotlowitz writes: "Children exposed to street violence show the same kind of post-traumatic stress disorder we see in veterans who’ve returned from combat. Yet there is nothing post about the trauma."


In doing so, he makes the same argument that becomes apparant to anyone who has seen Kartemquin's 2010 release Prisoner of Her Past (broadcast nationwide on PBS in 2011), which follows journalist Howard Reich's investigation into the childhood of his mother, a late-onset post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) sufferer who hid from the Nazis as a young girl during the Holocaust. Repressed for many years, Sonia Reich's childhood trauma returns suddenly and forcefully, mentally locking her back into the nightmare of the past.


In Prisoner of Her Past, Howard Reich also visits children who lived through the ordeal of Hurricane Katrina, and see the same signs of repressed trauma in them as he witnesses in his mother, and as seen in the young Chicagoans of The Interrupters. The importance of early counselling and strong mentors is stressed in both films, and in Kotlowitz's new essay. For these reasons, both films were also shown at the 2011 conference of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, which Kotlowitz and Reich attended.


Ameena Matthews, star of The Interrupters, has overcome her own difficult childhood trauma and now devotes her life to guiding those living in the midst of Chicago's violence. A new profile of her by Clarence Page in The Chicago Tribune today states, "She offers something that our cities need."


The Interrupters is on PBS Frontline 2/14, and is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from our store. Prisoner of Her Past is available on DVD from our store, and will be rebroadcast on Chicago's WTTW PBS station on Thursday, April 19 at 9:00pm in honor of Holocaust Remembrance day.