"The Prison in Twelve Landscapes" Premieres on Independent Lens

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05 May 2017
The Prison in Twelve Landscapes
Photo: Courtesy of PBS
"Independent Lens: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes"
Premieres Monday, May 8 at 10 PM ET on PBS
(Check your local listings)
          In the United States there are 2.2 million people in prison, up from only 300,000 forty years ago, yet for most Americans, prisons have never felt more distant or more out of sight. A cinematic journey through a series of seemingly ordinary American landscapes, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes excavates the hidden world of the modern prison system and explores lives outside the gates affected by prisons.
          By examining the impact of mass incarceration from outside the prison walls, the film takes us to unexpected locations, from an impoverished Kentucky coal mining town looking to a new federal prison as a much-needed source of employment, to a Bronx warehouse where an entrepreneurial former prisoner sells regulation-approved care packages for inmates, to Marin County, where female prisoners battle raging wildfires. The film visits two communities – Baltimore and St. Louis County, Missouri – bristling from racially motivated violence and rising tensions between African American communities and police, where we meet a Missouri woman who ends up in jail because she didn’t put her garbage bin lid on properly. And in New York, we meet a formerly incarcerated chess player and join family members on a dark street corner waiting for the bus to Attica.

          Filmmaker Story’s intent was to use film to examine “a system that has become so commonplace that we don’t even see it anymore, let alone question its purpose. My hope is to make the prison a subject of reinvigorated debate, by suggesting that it operates not just as a building ‘over there,’ but as a structure of power braided deeply into the relationships, economies and landscapes all around us. The film attempts to pose new questions about the work that prisons do in our society and whether that work is necessary or desirable. For when we start to examine the prison system from the spaces all around us, we begin to see how much more it has to do with jobs, with resource extraction, with economic development, with race and with poverty than it does necessarily with crime.”
          “There have been many recent documentaries about mass incarceration yet Brett captures new insight into the American prison story,” said Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Executive Producer. “Living in northern California, I never knew that female prisoners are among our most reliable wildfire fighters, or the rate at which we put people in prison for transgressions as small as not attaching their garbage can lid. These gemlike stories show 21st century American incarceration — from the outside in.”

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