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There's a fiction version in the movies about being in an American
prison. There's gang wars, gang rapes, gangland. This is a documentary
about those who live in reality and stay in reality. Some of them are
murderers with a lifetime sentence.
There has been a cultural program in Californian prisons, which was closed down last year because of budget reasons. It meant that the convicts, instead of belonging to some gang in the yard, could take part in activities like poetry, music and philosophical discussions. Naive? No, it seems to function for about 20 of them.
One of them thinks that whatever we've done, we're all the same, making life pass. We perhaps never get out of our physical conditions, in this case jail, but we can change anyway. Hopeful message; until the program was shut down in 2010.
When it comes to crime and punishment there is a difference between USA
and Europe. Most European countries tries very hard to rehabilitate
their convicts, drug addicts etc into turning their lives around and
make an honest living instead of continuing their life of crime.
In USA this thought is rare, and rarer still is the idea of trying to change a persons behaviour so that he or she could become a useful member of society.
But in this documentary we get to follow some very hardened convicts in Folsom prison, were they are active in a arts & culture program for convicts. Regardless of crime, ethnicity, background, 20 convicts gathers together by writing poetry, discussing philosophy etc.
Most notably of these convicts is Spoon Jackson, and well known poet and serving a lifetime sentence without the possibility of parole.
Why is he serving this sentence? Well, this just one of many unanswered questions that the viewer never gets an answer to. There are other questions, how many types of arts programs are there in US prison system, why did start etc but they never gets answered.
What director Michel Wenzer is focusing instead of is trying to create film poetry and he succeeds only half of time. The more interesting questions about what the prisonguards, and other inmates may think of these programs or whether or not there actually is doing any use we never get an answer too.
It is odd that Michel Wenzer made so little with this kind of interesting material, especially since I saw his shortfilm about Spoon Jackson a few years ago, entitled Three Poems (2004). I had expected more from director Wenzer.
But despite its flaws this film should be seen, because rarely if ever do we get a human face on the most despised human beings on the planet, the prison inmate.
Next time, maybe Wenzer should interview Michael Thompson, former member of the feared prison gang Aryan Brotherhood, now turned informer. A fascinating life story that easily could be made into an full feature documentary.
Journalist David Grann recalls Thompson to be a very intelligent, charismatic person but also very dangerous. Putting a human face on such a person would be an interesting challenge for any filmmaker.
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