By Daniella Nicholson, Staff Writer
“The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” takes an unusual path in documenting the consequences of the mass incarceration rate in the United States. Instead of simply showing us what life is like inside a prison, writer and director Brett Story shows viewers the impact that prisons have on the communities outside of them. This unique portrayal results in an often moving and poignant documentary that will leave you questioning the morals of the United States government — and, more importantly, your own.
Starting with New York’s own Washington Square Park, the film begins with exploring the chess-players in the park that we see on a daily basis. The majority of them are former prisoners who now play and teach the game for money. It isn’t something we normally give much thought to, but the influences of prisons are all around us, even in the communities we least expect them to be. As one chess player put it, “if you see any black man out here in the street hustling, trying to sell something — he’s been to jail.”
The film comes into its own and delivers the most important message in the final few episodes. In St. Louis County, the site of the tragic shooting of Mike Brown, viewers are introduced to the issue of race and its relationship to the mass incarceration rates. This part of the film is infuriating, as it should be, because of how apparent the problem seems to be, yet nothing is being done about it. A woman talks about her arrest for not having the lid on top of her trash can — an absurd reason that hints at the cause behind such a high level of imprisonment in our country.
Later on, still in St. Louis County, we see long lines of people, the majority of whom are African-American, all waiting to pay senseless parking tickets. This sort of image captures the problems with the prison system more so than the prisons themselves.
What “Landscapes” succeeds most in doing is sharing the stories of people’s experiences with incarceration around the country. The diversity shows just how prevalent the issue of over-incarceration is.
In choosing how to tell this narrative, Story is triumphant. In her understanding what contributes beneficially in raising awareness to a topic that unconsciously affects each citizen of the United States, she creates a film that is original and asks new questions about the true nature of these government institutions.
“The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” urges us to challenge the ethics of an establishment meant to provide justice, to not simply close our eyes to the reality around us. The documentary ends on a fitting note, to sum up the corrupt nature of the prison system: “All this is about, at the end of the day, no matter how we see it, is money.”
“The Prison In Twelve Landscapes” had its initial release on March 3, 2016.