At the start of the movie, Caroline and her boyfriend are on the run after committing a robbery. She is only 17 so her boyfriend says there's no way she will do time.
Caroline is on a bus to the Rockwood Youth Correctional Facility. But the bus needs a tire change, and it just so happens the bus can go past a fire where the RYCF fire crew is working. The new prisoners change buses and the fire crew will wait for the new tire and use the other bus. While this is happening, Caroline is frightened by a butterfly. Naturally, the other girls laugh, but Terry shows compassion and gets the butterfly off of Caroline. And from this point on Caroline is nicknamed "Butterfly" and Terry becomes her best friend. At least once Caroline is open to having friends.
Prison is not pleasant, but it's not so bad. Caroline can't send a letter to her boyfriend, but Pedra has a way to sneak a letter to him. Unlike Terry, though, Pedra will expect some sort of benefit for her actions. Also, some of the girls bully Caroline. One reason is that Caroline is a very talented artist and the girls view her drawings of them and their families on visiting day to be an invasion of privacy. Another reason is that she does really well in school--she must finish school because of her age. It's no worse than what one might find in a inner-city school, but it's no paradise.
D.J. is the compassionate counselor who gets to go home to his family each night and who wants the best for all the girls. Some of them work on the fire crew, which gives them a purpose in life and valuable job training that will help on the outside. Plus the girls seem to have a good time when fighting fires. Terry is the crew's leader.
The funding for the fire crew might be cut. D.J. needs to find more girls to recruit or it won't be safe for them to fight fires. Terry is up for parole--and it's a good thing because her military veteran mother is dying--and so is Keisha. Replacements are needed, and not just any girl can qualify. D.J. thinks Caroline might once she turns 18, but Caroline isn't interested.
Also important to the story is Amy, who refuses to see her father, but participates in a really exciting rescue.
So will Caroline join the fire crew? Will Terry make parole?
This is a really good movie, and one families can watch together. What little violence this movie has is no worse than what would be found in a bad school. Or even a good school with some bad kids. Although there is the flashback that shows why Terry is in prison. She is a good girl and should have never ended up in prison. It was an accident, but one she could have prevented, and one for which she could have taken more responsibility. And this movie teaches a lot about making choices and making things happen in one's life. Things don't happen to you--YOU make them happen. That is the theme of this movie.
The commercials mentioned "Oscar winner" Cuba Gooding Jr., but he's not the one who gives an award-winning performance, though he does a fine job. DeWanda Wise is the one who deserves some sort of recognition, because she is outstanding. One of her best scenes is the one where she breaks the rules to teach Caroline about Plato while she is in "detention" (Caroline was fighting and is confined to a cell instead of getting to enjoy what few benefits this prisons offers). D.J. thinks this is the best thing for Caroline. And it is. And it's only the beginning for these two.
The other leading actors also do a good job. And I want to single out the black member of the parole board as well.
There are some really fun scenes. The girls like to sing, and when doing their training they do that "I don't know but I've been told" routine. There is a radio in the bus. And the girls are on the news after that exciting rescue.
This movie has a lot of heart and inspires us to do better.