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PBS and HBO offer two powerful documentaries

October 13, 2018

A life unraveled emerges in diary entries and interviews in the documentary “God Knows Where I Am” (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings). The film’s title can be stated and interpreted in two very different ways. Put the accent on the second word and it seems an exasperated, even sarcastic, admission of disorientation and loss. Keep the emphasis on the first and it’s a declaration of certainty.

When New Hampshire police discovered a dead body in 2008, they first suspected that their “Jane Doe” committed suicide. But the story that emerges here is a long tale of mental illness, incarceration, isolation and alienation.

Linda Bishop, a well-educated wife and mother, began to disturb her loved ones and acquaintances in 1999 when she told people that she was being hounded by members of the Chinese mafia. A long and painful tale of burning bridges with family members, arrests, incarcerations and institutionalizations emerges in a wealth of diary entries, read here by actress Lori Singer (“Footloose,” “Short Cuts”).

Bishop eventually took to a barely heated cabin and subsisted on forest apples and water from a stream before succumbing to dehydration and starvation.

• A very personal glance at our justice system, the documentary “The Sentence” (7 p.m., HBO, TV-PG) also shows how the most unlikely people can become filmmakers, inspired by needs that have nothing to do with art or commerce.

Cindy Shank was never convicted of any crime, but she received a mandatory 15-year prison sentence. Her life was normal until a boyfriend began dealing drugs. After his murder, she got her life together, married and had three daughters. Six years after the boyfriend’s funeral, the state of Michigan used a legal technicality known as “the girlfriend problem” to charge her with conspiracy and complicity in any crimes he might have committed. A mandatory minimum sentence put her away for a decade and a half.

Aware that his sister was being ripped away from her family, Rudy Valdez, the first-time director of “The Sentence,” began to document Cindy’s ordeal. “The Sentence” offers a glance at a family trying to cope and a legal system employing and debating tactics once seen as cruel, draconian and unconstitutional.

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