Prison In Twelve Landscapes

Emma Goold, Section Representative

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a documentary film about prison that never once steps foot inside one. Instead, director Brett Story says, she wanted to illustrate how the prison extends far beyond its walls and generates a low-level violence that permeates our society. The violence of waiting, in a scene at 34th & 7th in NYC, where lines of women and children of color wait for busses to visit prisons upstate. The violence of loneliness, seen through the eyes of the producer of the “Calls from Home” show, which broadcasts longing messages from family members to their loved ones in prison. The violence of fear, in a community that is building small parks for the purpose of forcing out residents on the sex offender registry. The violence of poverty, which makes residents in a former coal-mining town in eastern Kentucky hope for a federal prison that will bring money and job security to their community.

There are less subtle forms of violence, too, like the heart-wrenching scenes from Ferguson, Missouri. In one, a woman describes how she faced fifteen days in jail after receiving a ticket because the lid had fallen off her outdoor trashcan. In another, a man describes how he was pulled over and issued a ticket for driving without insurance. Though he was able to show proof of insurance, he was still charged more than $200 in court costs.

In a Q&A session with the director led by HLS Professor Umunna after the screening, Ms. Story suggested that by showing the multiple functions that prisons serve, we can begin to imagine ways to achieve those functions without the prison. This is a compelling sentiment, but perhaps only to those who already recognize the pitfalls of our system of mass incarceration. Those who opt in to a Tuesday evening showing of a film entitled The Prison in Twelve Landscapes on a university campus are perhaps, as Professor Umunna put it, “the choir” when it comes to these issues. That raises a challenge, for us especially, as a community of progressive activists. How do we disseminate this kind of powerful imagery to those who are not yet convinced of the pervasive violence of the prison system? And more importantly, how do we foster an atmosphere in which people are truly willing to have their worldview challenged and to engage in meaningful dialogue?

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