Wednesday, June 5, 2013


At the Quad Cinema, you'll find the doc Released about four former convicts, namely, Casimiro Torres, Kenneth Harrigan, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, and Angel Ramos, who all lived in the Castle which houses recently-paroled convicts. They perform a play together called The Castle where they give vivid accounts of how they ended up in prison, their experiences inside the prison, and how the Castle residence helped them to get back on their feet instead of going back to prison like most convicts do. Each story is compelling, heartfelt and well-performed, but the real meat of director Philip F. Messina's doc can be found in the latter part when the former convicts discuss the value of the Castle, and how greeted with "Welcome Home" upon entering the residence changed everything. Released doesn't go into the root of the drug/violence problems in the U.S., but it at least serves as an inspiration for current convicts and as a cautionary tale for everyone else who may get tempted to go down the path of drugs and violence. -Ave Offer, NYC Movie Guru


Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Four ex-convicts, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan, Casimiro Torres and Angel Ramos find a way to overcome their traumatic histories and chronic criminal behavior to become exemplary citizens. It is the ultimate redemption story—the powerful journey of four extraordinary characters who bare their souls and who have climbed mountains to get where they are today. Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan, Casimiro Torres and Angel Ramos- defy the grim statistic that two out of every three prisoners released in the United States will be back in prison within three years.

Vilma Ortiz Donovan, a vibrant Puerto Rican woman from a solid family, became addicted to cocaine, was seduced by the drug world, and became a formidable drug dealer—one of the first women ever in such a role.  She served six years in prison. 

Kenneth Harrigan, an “A” student from a stable African American family, fell into drug use and graduated to crack.  Hopelessly addicted, he took to burglary to sustain his crushing habit.  With only three arrests and no history of violence, he was sentenced to twelve years to life.

Casimiro Torres, half Puerto Rican and half Irish, grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, fatherless, with five siblings and an alcoholic mother.  Caz’s childhood was beset by crime and violence and he did regular stints in juvenile facilities where as a boy he experienced horrors at the hands of sadistic and sexually deviant staff.  Caz got into drugs at age ten and eventually moved to crack.  He became a hardened criminal, doing burglaries, armed robberies, or whatever it took.  He was arrested sixty-seven times and served sixteen years in prison.  

Angel Ramos, Puerto Rican, grew up desperately poor with an abusive mother and father who also had serious mental problems. At the age of seventeen, a friend made an offhand remark that offended him.  When a heated argument ensued, a hidden reservoir of rage erupted in Angel and he murdered his friend right there.  He got 30 years to life and served 16 years in prison.

Vilma, Kenneth, Caz and Angel’s stories are harrowing, filled with struggle, pathos, desperation and hope. Yet they are familiar too, and parallel the lives of so many in our bloated prison system.  As our principals have so dramatically experienced, what ought to be the final redemptive chapter -- getting released—is often the hardest challenge of all.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

RELEASED reviewed by New York Times and NY Daily News

Freed, but Not Really Out of Prison

‘Released,’ a Documentary by Philip F. Messina

Winner Productions
From left, Angel Ramos, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan and Casimiro Torres in the documentary "Released."


Crime may not pay, but prison is the gift that keeps giving. According to “Released,” a stark documentary by Philip F. Messina, two-thirds of all inmates in the United States return to jail within three years of being freed. When ex-convicts re-enter society without having learned any coping skills, it’s small wonder that they wind up in trouble again.

“Released” is adapted from “The Castle,” a 2008 Off Broadway play that starred four ex-cons speaking of their degradation and eventual redemption. The film has the same cast: Casimiro Torres, Kenneth Harrigan, Angel Ramos and Vilma Ortiz Donovan, all former longtime inmates of New York State prisons. Mr. Ramos alone served 30 years: “How do I live like a normal human being,” he asks, “when I have no idea what normal is?”

Performing in front of two audiences, one in a theater, the other in a prison, all four speak of the forces — religion, loved ones, epiphanies — that made them want to change; all four, now taxpaying jobholders, credit their success to the Castle, the 60-bed Manhattan residence run by the Fortune Society. In addition to shelter, the Castle provides career development and social training. Less than 10 percent of those who stayed there have returned to prison, according to the film.
Still, the Department of Justice says, more than 650,000 prison inmates are released every year. “What happens to all of those that don’t have an organization like the Fortune Society to help them?” Mr. Harrigan wonders. And Mr. Ramos, articulating the point of this earnest, inspirational film, says, “We need a thousand Castles.”  

New film titled ‘RELEASED’ tells the stories of ex-cons who turned their lives around after prison  

'RELEASED' features former inmates who were clients of the Fortune Society group that helps inmates get back on their feet after prison. It is being shown at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan


Photo courtesy of Winner Pictures

Fortune Society caseworker Casimiro Torres (r.) one of the stars of 'RELEASED', talks with a client. Torrest is a former inmate who turned his life around and recounts his struggles in the film.

Casimiro Torres spent much of his troubled childhood bouncing between the care of his alcoholic mother and juvenile detention centers, sleeping on the streets and stealing food for his younger siblings.
As an adult, Torres, of Briarwood, Queens, spent 16 years incarcerated for crimes ranging from assault to drug and gun possession. He bore little resemblance to the man, now 45, who helps veterans battle drug addiction.
Newspapers are filled with stories of criminals going up the river, but now there’s a film that shows what happens when they come back.
The film, “RELEASED,” details the struggles of Torres and three other ex-cons who emerged from jail, turned a corner and somehow managed to turn their lives around.
“We wanted to put a face on the formerly incarcerated,” said David Rothenberg, who came up with the idea for the project. “There’s an avalanche of stories about crime, and never about people who have reclaimed their lives.”
Rothenberg founded the Fortune Society, a Long Island City-based group that helps released prisoners get back on their feet. All of the former inmates featured in the film were clients of the group.
The movie, which is making its big-screen debut this week, is based on an off-Broadway production, “The Castle.”
The play’s title refers to the Fortune Academy, a West Harlem residence where many of the society’s homeless clients stay when they get out of prison.
The play was supposed to be shown for only two weekends as a fund-raiser, but it wound up having a 14-month run. It is still performed in colleges and prisons.
Marty Feinberg, executive producer of “RELEASED,” saw the play at a women’s prison in 2010, and said he knew it had to be made into a movie.
“I was very moved by the intelligence and demeanor of the convicts,” he said. “I always thought of convicts as being terrible people, and now I see them as real human beings.”
“RELEASED” delves even deeper into the lives of its subjects, including Torres.
When Torres got out of prison for the last time, in 2005, something “clicked,” he said. “I just finally wanted to live more than I wanted to die,” he said.
He went to the Fortune Society, met with counselors to help him get clean and eventually became a case manager for veterans with drug problems.
Torres agreed to tell his story in the play and the film because he wanted to inspire people “going through the things I went through,” he said.
“I hope to create an awareness that there are people that come out of prison and do good things,” Torres said.
“RELEASED” is showing through Thursday at the Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St., Manhattan. For film times, see

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

RELEASED now playing at the QUAD CINEMA

We are excited to announce that our documentary film RELEASED is now showing at the Quad Cinema daily (1p, 3p, 5p, 7p & 9p) through May 23rd. Come see one of the most important movies of the year! Visit for more information.

(photo credit: