Director Cheryl Dunye reportedly spent four years researching this drama about women in prison, and its authenticity—especially its strong sense of group dynamics—immediately distinguishes it from sexploitation flicks like Chained Heat. Treasure (Yolonda Ross) is glad to transfer from juvenile detention to the state penitentiary on her 21st birthday, thinking that the birth mother she never knew is doing life there, but when she tries to kindle a mother-daughter relationship with a ruthless clique leader (Davenia McFadden) she provokes the jealousy of the woman’s other “daughter” (Rain Phoenix). Dunye bluntly portrays the prisoners’ brutal aggression, the intense racial antagonism, and the trading of sex for protection, but she’s just as interested in the tender camaraderie and in Treasure’s moral awakening. Except for an unconvincing coda, the script is excellent, and Nancy Schreiber’s fluid camera work and harsh lighting transform the prison into a womb both menacing and comforting. Ross and McFadden turn in riveting performances.