Director: Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary
Released: September 8th
New Folsom Prison houses almost 3000 men. Numbered amongst them are maximum security prisoners, those the system have dubbed ‘Level 4’ insofar as they represent the greatest danger to themselves and others. The prison runs weekly therapy sessions for these prisoners, and twice a year, they hold a four-day intensive group-therapy session that is open to participation from (male) members of the public. Due to the number attending, they are split into smaller groups, of roughly ten apiece. Though each group is independent from the others, they all occupy the same large room. This documentary records the experience of one group, including three civilians, over the duration of the event.
Documentaries like this are difficult to review – their power comes from demonstration. Moreover, what the documentary demonstrates is a sequence of emotional breakthroughs, which are impossible to adequately convey. In short, you will have to see this film to know what it is. And believe me, you will have to see this film. Like the audience, the civilians don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. Two claim beforehand that they’re simply interested in the event, that they’re intrigued by a new experience, etc. To us, and probably to themselves, they give no impression of how badly they want to heal, how chaotic and unhappy they are. By the end they know, and are better for it.
The inmates lead the way. Most have been through this process before, though a few are new. Their courage in facing the rawness of their emotions, in battling every instinct that clearly screams at them to repress and withdraw from their pain, especially in the context of a group, is what the work of The Work is. They make it possible for the others, civilian and inmate alike, to become vulnerable. As first-time attendant Kiki says, “I don’t want to feel like I can’t feel anymore.” Do not miss this film.
Words: Tom Lordan