Solitary (2016) Review

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Doing Time the Hard Way.

“Solitary” (2016): 7 out of 10: is a documentary film released in 2016, directed by Kristi Jacobson. The film offers a profound exploration into the solitary confinement system within the United States prison system. Through candid interviews and observational footage, “Solitary” sheds light on the psychological toll endured by both prisoners and guards within these isolating conditions. This report aims to provide an overview and analysis of the documentary.

“Solitary” takes viewers inside the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, a facility known for its implementation of solitary confinement. Through a series of interviews with inmates, correctional officers, and mental health professionals, “Solitary” delves into the impact of prolonged isolation on human psychology and behavior.

The film portrays the stark reality of life in solitary confinement, where individuals are confined to small cells for 23 hours a day, with minimal human contact and sensory deprivation. Inmates share their experiences of despair, hallucinations, and the struggle to maintain their sanity in such conditions.

“Solitary” examines the effects of solitary confinement on the prison staff as well. Correctional officers discuss the emotional toll of their jobs, grappling with the dehumanizing aspects of their work and the ethical dilemmas it presents.

The Good

The Good: Solitary highlights the severe psychological repercussions of solitary confinement, including depression, anxiety, and psychosis. By humanizing the experiences of inmates, “Solitary” challenges the stigma surrounding mental illness in the context of incarceration.

My girlfriend loves Prison and True Crime documentaries and was engaged with Solitary. She wondered why they did not have programs for the inmates like group AA or Therapy meetings (They show an Anger Management Class in all fairness). She reflected to another documentary we saw “Death Row 2018 with Trevor McDonald” where the Death Row prisoners were allowed kitties.

This gave the prisoners an outlet and hope. It seemed to make the prisoners much easier to manage for the prison employees as well.

Also, I found humor in “Solitary”, alas that of the Gallows variety, in the story of the South Central gangbanger who visited a friend in Virginia and committed a few armed robberies as one does and was sentenced to thirty-eight years. He pointed out even with his record, he would be looking at the most eight years in California. His observations that it is much better to commit crime in California than Virginia should please Virginia taxpayers.

The Bad

The Bad: The documentary points out the obvious (that 23 hour solitary confinement for years at a time will do things to your mind). It does not really have much in terms of alternatives. My girlfriend had more ideas than anyone interviewed, including the jails psychologist who read the company line about no proof that it’s cruel or affects mental health and then scurried off stage left.

The prison guards (who honestly realise that while this is a better, more stable job than coal mining, it is pretty miserable work) have little to add. Of course they are interviewed in front of thier captain which probably reduces candor. In fact, the documentarian Kristi Jacobson asks if they ever think about how such isolation would affect them. The guards seem empathic and insightful till their boss pipes in he has never imagined himself as an inmate, which honestly would seem to be a pretty standard part of doing the job well.

The Ugly

The Ugly: One thing many prison documentaries will remind you of is why we have prisons and why these particular people are in prison. One prisoner who has been pleading terrible childhood for much of the movie recounts the harrowing murder he committed of a store clerk that got him in there in the first place. It is truly terrifying and a view in to the face of evil.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: “Solitary” is a by the numbers documentary when all is said and done. It is fair and listens to all sides and seems to have decent access. What is does not have is an answer to the quandary of what exactly should you do with a prisoner who slit his Warden’s throat? I mean there needs to be a place to hold those prisoners as well. And Red Onion State Prison is Virginia’s answer, proving safety for other prisons and good-paying jobs in a depressed area of the state.

Tops & Bottoms sounds like a strip club. And yet they have a Jesus sign. I could see a strip club in rural Virginia having a Jesus sign.
I am getting a definite “Hello Clarice” vibe here.
I see that How to Escape from Prison by Paul Wood is not included.
Here is our “The Judge was giving out thirty-eight years like he was giving out candy” armed robber. If Michael had only paid attention to Goodfellas he could have avoided this fate.
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