Last week, we were invited by a friend at Sankofa.org to a special screening of Survivors Guide to Prison (see trailer below) by filmmaker Matthew Cooke, hosted by Pusha T and David Arquette. The film was produced by a multitude of well-known activist celebrities, including Susan Sarandon, long known as an advocate for prisoner’s rights, and featured celebrities and known activists, each giving advice on how to survive prison. The film also provided necessary information on the troubled United States criminal justice system. Throughout the movie one learns the story of two men, both wrongly charged and convicted of crimes they did not commit. Both of these men served years in prison before they were finally proven innocent and released. It’s heartbreaking to know that these are just two of many such stories in existence.
The documentary’s depiction of our criminal justice system, it’s dysfunctionality and horrific treatment of those charged, convicted, imprisoned, and eventually released back into a world that does not accept them, is bleak. The complex and multi-layered problems include:
- Violence, inside prison by fellow inmates as well as by law enforcement
- The dehumanization of inmates
- Minor offenses often carry heavy and long mandatory jail sentences even for first-time offenders
- Outrageous bail requirements
- The racial divide within the prisons
- The unfair and biased treatment of African Americans, as well as the poor, in charging, setting bail and sentencing
- Inadequate legal representation
- Lack of appropriate mental health care (many inmates have mental conditions that go untreated)
- Slave labor perpetrated by well-known corporations
- Prosecutors who only want to win their cases, regardless of the possible innocence of those charged (95% of their “wins” are plea bargains, most of which will carry longer prison sentences)
- The privatization of prisons where prisons are profit-centers: and the more inmates, the more money goes into the pockets of the owners)
The documentary is deeply disturbing and extremely powerful. Some of us know about the violence and lack of mental and general health care, but many don’t know about how the privatization of prisons has increased our prison population such that there are more people in prison than in college in the US. It’s all about the money, thus these prison owners hire powerful lobbyists to pass mandatory sentencing laws. They fill their pockets with our tax money, while people who should not even be behind bars live lives of horror. Yes, some of those who are behind bars deserve to be there, but that does not mean they deserve to be treated like animals. Are we imprisoning them to punish them? Or to rehabilitate them?
Here are some stats from Prison Policy Initiative to put a quick perspective on it…
But know this… there are real problems for those incarcerated and if you think that the simple rule of “everyone in jail deserves to be there” you have been living under a large rock. Research, learn and be informed.