November 22, 2017 – This is a powerful emotional documentary film about prisoners and outsiders who participate in a series of revealing group therapy sessions inside Folsom State Prison. The men in these sessions dig deep to unearth the emotional wounds that have affected them for years. When these emotions are brought to the surface they can be healing, or scary. The film is directed by Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous.
The sessions, facilitated by the Inside Circle organization (http://insidecircle.org) staff, boast a remarkable success rate. Prisoners who go through “The Work” of this program, and who are later released from prison, don't come back to prison. Unlike the rest of the general prison population, there is no recidivism by Inside Circle graduates.
The group therapy sessions shown in the film feature a wide variety of people, who usually don't mix with each other, members of white supremacist groups (the Aryan Nations) mingle with members of black and Hispanic street gangs, as well as a member of an American Indian prison group, called “The Skins” or the Native American Brotherhood (NAB). People build walls between themselves in prison and in the outside world as well. The Inside Circle tries to break down those walls.
A couple of common things emerge from these revealing therapy sessions. One is that many prisoners seem to have shut down their emotions to protect themselves in brutal environments inside and outside prison. The other thing is the importance of fathers in childhood, adolescence and in adulthood. Many of these men either had no father present in their lives, or had bad, abusive fathers.
This reminded me of a 2001 study (http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/DonohueLevittTheImpactOfLegalized2001.pdf) publicized in Freakonomics, on the crime rate prior to the legalization of abortion in America, compared to the crime rate afterward. About 18 years after the legalization of abortion, there was a sizeable drop in the murder rate, and other crimes, too. The damage done by adolescents and adults who were unwanted as children can be devastating. Many of the men in this movie were damaged as children.
Chris, one of the outsiders who has come into the prison to participate in this therapy, breaks down unexpectedly during one of the exercises. The prisoners gather around him, helping him to deal with the inadequacy his father made him feel as a child. They form a barrier and he breaks through to a catharsis in which he asserts his own self worth as a man.
The scariest moment happens when Dark Cloud, a large powerful NAB member lunges at another prisoner who makes an ill-advised joke about him during an intense therapy session. In another session, the same prisoner makes another ill-advised comment about another prisoner, and the tension builds quickly between the two, before others intervene and diffuse the situation.
In another session, a despondent prisoner talks about his desire to commit suicide and how nobody would miss him if he died. The group goes silent. It is clear he is not the only one thinking such thoughts. Finally, another prisoner gets in his face and tells him to “be a man” and get his life together for the sake of his son.
After a prisoner makes a big breakthrough, another prisoner, Rick, a former member of a motorcycle gang, said he felt good about the progress made by the prisoner. He said it gave him a thrill like riding his old Shovelhead motorcycle at 140 miles per hour. Rick likes to live on the edge. You do not want to see him get angry. This film rates an A.
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