Criminal Justice • Sociology • American Studies • Human Rights • Mental Health
2016. Director Kristi Jacobson. Producers Katie Mitchell & Julie Goldman.
82 Minutes. Includes Captions.
On an Appalachian mountaintop nearly 300 miles from the nearest urban center, Red Onion State Prison — one of over 40 supermax prisons across the US — holds up to 500 prisoners in isolated, 8’x10’ cells for 23 hours a day, where they are forgotten by the world beyond its walls. These inmates are sentenced to solitary confinement, not by judges or juries, but by prison authorities. Supermax prisons are considered “Black Sites” — mysterious and highly guarded locations that virtually never admit the press. The select few who manage to secure access are stripped of all recording devices before undertaking intensely scrutinized visits.
In the immersive, Emmy award wining documentary SOLITARY, filmmaker Kristi Jacobson gives viewers unprecedented and unrestricted access to Red Onion residents, along with the prison’s chilling sounds and haunting atmosphere. In startlingly intimate interviews, inmates reflect on violent childhoods, the dangers of prison life, and their struggles to stay sane against the unrelenting monotony of solitary confinement. Interwoven with their stories are the voices of the corrections officers, who are serving a different type of time right alongside the prisoners, all the while as they struggle to maintain their humanity.
As the prison initiates a reform program aimed at reducing the number of inmates in solitary, the process provides an unexpected window into life on both sides of the bars. Filmed over the course of one year, SOLITARY tells the stories of people caught in the complex American penal system, while raising provocative questions about the nature of punishment in America today.