Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison Review
"I don't care how tough you are, I don't care how badass you think you are, you can Bruce Lee it up all you want, it gets to you."
So says an inmate of Red Onion, a supermax prison that is located in Virginia. His eyes are honest, his body-language normal, his speech unfaltering. We are watching someone who is clearly suffering from extreme loneliness and boredom, eating away at him like some kind of infectious disease. He carries on, discussing how he got there, discussing the personal moves he made that turned him into a criminal. He also goes over the daily life of being in solitary confinement. Red Onion is for the bad of the bad. Inmates in solitary spend twenty-three hours alone in a cell with nothing to do. They get privileges as their behavior gets better. Some are there are years, others for life, and some of them are there for life for questionable charges.
So should we use solitary confinement as a means of rehabilitating prison inmates? That's the question that plagues the entire film. As more and more inmates are interviewed, it seems more and more are being lost in the system of criminal justice rather than actually be rehabilitated. There are programs the prison offers that help people get from solitary to general population, but sometimes that doesn't even work. In fact, for a large amount of people in solitary, many never go back to general population. No matter how hard they try.
So why isn't more being done to correct this? Well, the documentary never says or even suggests. Its a dreary, cold movie. Showing inmate after inmate, listening to them discuss how downright depressed they are. We hear security guard after security guard discuss how its "just a job" and how some of them feel for the inmates. Do I believe prison reform needs to be more of a reality in this country? Sure, but I'd love some ideas and suggestions of how we go about that. I don't need the point of how poorly people are treated in prisons hammered over my head in order to get the point. For a documentary that doesn't even go over the hour-thirty mark, its awfully wordy and feels four hours long.
I am not sure I need to be told anymore just how much we are failing our inmates. How we have grand opportunities to make these people decent citizens again, and how we continue to drop the ball. I know all of this already. Far more documentarians have tackled this similar material with more insightful, more engaging results. This just left me wanting to jump through a jump-rope in the sunshine, I felt woefully depressed. Was that the only point of the movie? To show us how bad it is and make us feel terrible for these guys. Then mission accomplished. I do feel bad for these guys. Especially those are who are truly getting fucked by the system. But can't this movie do more than make me feel unpleasant? I feel like its a squashed opportunity.
FINAL GRADE: C-