“When you went to prison, it changed the whole atmosphere of your household.

When you went to prison, it changed the whole atmosphere of the family.

You really gotta pray.”

“Evolution of a Criminal” is a personal documentary about how one man turned to crime as a solution in Houston. This Independent Lens program premieres on 12 January 2015 on PBS. Check local listings. After its PBS premiere, the documentary will be available VoD on PBS.org.

At 17, a former honor student named Darius Clark Monroe was put in a penitentiary. Monroe had been convicted of robbing a bank. In this documentary, using re-enactments, old photos and video and current day interviews, Monroe returns to his childhood home and interviews the people who were affected by the robbery–his family, his partners in this crime and to the victims at the bank. Now 33, he shows us how he became a criminal.

Monroe walks his mother down the aisle when she was married. He is her only son and she didn’t have a father to do it. She was “super mom” Monroe tells us.  She worked overtime. “Hanging out was like going across the street,” Monroe tells us. He had family, and people he considered family.

We are told he was “a warm child” and always had “big dreams.”

“I always thought we were a middle-class family,” he tells us. It wasn’t until he was 15-16, he realized they didn’t have money. They had credit card debt.

“We were not starving, we were not on welfare, but we were just struggling, paycheck to paycheck,” Monroe states.

Monroe became acutely aware of the financial burdens of his parents.

Leroy “Trei” Callier III, a classmate at Willowridge High School in Houston, remembers “when they got cool.” Trei was the driver.

Monroe got a job in a store.

The family was doing well and then there was a robbery. “Mentally and emotionally, it whipped us out,” Monroe remembers. The burglars knocked a hole in the garage and a hole in Monroe’s room. All the valuables were stolen: VCRs and a VHS camera.  Cash from a paycheck that hadn’t been deposited was taken. “There was no way to get out of the situation we were in.” Monroe’s stepfather, Michael Marshall, had two jobs. Monroe became obsessed with their financial situation, his mother remembers.

Monroe began to steal VCRs from where he worked to replace the ones stolen from us. He reasoned that the company could afford it and he could circumvent the system.

Pastor David Ned was of the victims–a customer at the bank that day. He met Monroe at his church. The pastor was initially angry after the experience and yet is relieved that upon meeting Monroe, he feels no anger. Monroe also gets comments from a police officers, including campus security officer, Russell Walton. We also hear from Stacy L. Brownlee, the former Assistant District Attorney with the Fort Bend County Juvenile Courts and the prosecutor on this case.

Trei and Monroe  and one other friend tried to game the school system. They had a shotgun, unloaded. They stole $140,000.

The mood of the documentary is contemplative, thanks largely to Daniel Patterson’s cinematography. The focus and lighting is soft. There’s almost a poignantly nostalgic atmosphere.

Mostly, I was left with a sadness. These young men made one bad decision from which there was no turning back. And yet there were smaller acts, that made it easier, that led the way. Detectives take note. The young men said at their school, “Nobody knew nothing but everybody knew something.”

Monroe served five years in prison. He obtained his GED during that time and took college courses. In 2004, he graduated with honors from the University of Houston with a BA in Communications: Media Production. He then received an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “Evolution of a Criminal” is his first feature film.

The documentary, which made its world premiere at SXSW Film Fest last year,  screened at the Center for Documentary Studies Documentary Film Festival and received a Filmmaker Award. The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival awarded the documentary a special jury prize.

Spike Lee serves as the executive producer.

This Independent Lens program premieres on 12 January 2015 on PBS. Check local listings. After its PBS premiere, the documentary will be available VoD on PBS.org.

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