Kristi Jacobson’s HBO-aired documentary goes inside the segregation units at Red Onion State Prison, a supermax facility located in rural Virginia. The convicts incarcerated here are among the most violent in the penal system – and while they initially come across as articulate and charismatic in their on-camera interviews, the insouciant manner in how they detail the carnage that landed them behind bars is more than a little unsettling.
The prisoners featured here live in the eight-by-ten cells 23 hours a day. And while some of the men are allowed the luxuries of televisions, books and (in at least one case) an iPod, they are nonetheless challenged in staying sane in such an environment. Many of them jettison sanity, as the prison pods echo with endless screaming and banging by the men locked in their cells. But their cacophony is mostly ignored by the correctional officers, and those interviewed here seem mostly numb to their duties.
The film details an attempt at reforming the incorrigibles out of their solitary confinement and back into the general prison population, but the results are not always encouraging. This documentary offers a fascinating insight regarding the challenges of criminal justice, raising difficult questions without giving easy answers.