Maximum Jail Review: The Farm 10 Years Later

July 7, 2009 by  
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MAXIMUM JAIL: Tuesday 7th July, More4, 10pm Alert Me

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t looking forward to this.

The words “maximum?, and “jail? conjure images of Louis Theroux’s bear-baiting outings to Oz-style state penitentiaries, where the inmates are unruly and remorseless, and the viewer’s only possible emotive response is horror.

Jonathan Stack’s follow-up to his 1997 Oscar-nominated documentary The Farm is, thankfully, quite a different affair.

Maximum Jail sees Stack return to Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, the USA’s largest maximum security prison, which houses 5,100 inmates, 95% of which will never leave.

In stark contrast to Theroux et al’s freak shows, which tend to paint prisoners as a lower class of human being and take relish in the prison authority’s violence towards inmates (which undoubtedly compounds any existing problems), this doc creates portraits of selected inmates, and reveals the humanity behind the label “criminal?, making for sublime viewing.

Head Warden Burl Cain takes the term “correctional facility? literally and allows the inmates to, without sounding too corny, realise their potential, focusing on equipping his prisoners with a “moral component?.

Inmates may, if they choose, work on the radio or TV stations, write for the prison magazine, or participate in sporting events. A university with these facilities and services would be one you’d consider applying to.

This is not a particularly violent prison, the men inside appear levelled and repentant, which is shocking when you consider one half of all the inmates have been convicted of murder.

By no means however is Stack a cheerleader for Kane’s method of leadership. He remains completely impartial, also taking a look at the effects of the crimes committed on the inmates and their victims.

Perhaps inadvertently, Stack reveals the crippling effects of prejudice.

In a particularly poignant moment in the film one prisoner ponders a lifetime deprived of liberty. Denial of freedom is punishment enough; though the time that remains may be spent in Angola doing penance, improving oneself.

Highly recommended.

Leonie Mercedes