Lockdown 101

by Liz Glamour

Panthers QT
3.2 Mb

Beside bars QT
3.1 Mb

La Mujer QT
1.4 Mb

3.0 Mb

Lockdown QT
2.4 Mb

Gulag QT
2.9 Mb

Healthcare QT
5 Mb

Probation QT
2.4 Mb

Prison Labor QT
3.0 Mb

Geron Pratt QT
3.2 Mb

While the last four years have seen a great deal of heated public debate on how best to get "tough on crime," the long-term social and economic impact of the policies that result from this debate have been largely ignored. Prison populations continue to rise rapidly, as politicians divert more and more money from social services, creating in their place expanded police powers and greater capacity for incarceration. At the same time, under the guise of combating "terrorism," the U.S. government continues to use new technologies in its penal system to monitor and repress representatives of groups that it finds ideologically threatening , such as the Black Panther Party, the Puerto Rican Resistance Movements, the American Indian Movement, the Ohio 7, and the North American Political Prisoners. But while the incarceration rate in the U.S. has skyrocketed to become by far the highest in the world, there are few critical public discussions about who profits from prisons what goes on inside them, and why public resources are increasingly being used to fund their expansion at the expense of other community needs.

To counter this silence, a number of independent film and videomakers have produced compelling works on prisoners and the politics of prisons. Their works point to the complexities of power at work in the ways we define and punish crimes and show the repercussions of those social concenses. "Lockdown USA," produced by Deep Dish Network , is a compilation of material from their upcoming four-part series on the business of crime and justice in the United States. Edited from footage from activists and filmmakers across the country, it points to the operations of the prison industry and the criminal justice system as institutionalized forms of oppression for the already disenfranchised and discusses the repercussions that those operations have for society as a whole. Pointing out that the majority of inmates are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses, it is especially critical of the lack of educational opportunities in prison and of the ways in which prisons have gone from ostensibly being rehabilitative to blatantly being mere warehouses for society's undesirables.

Although some prison activists claim that all prisoners are "political", there are a number of prisoners whose incarceration is directly linked to specifically political acts or beliefs. "Framing the Panthers in Black and White," a thirty minute film by Chris Bratton and Annie Goldson, discusses the effect that the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO program had on the Black Panther Party and documents the trumped up charges and blatant framings that left many Panthers dead or in jail. "Geronimo Pratt", "Have You Seen La Nueva Mujer Revolucionaria Puertoriquena?", and "Resistance Conspiracy" — all by California video artist Lisa Rudman — document some of the political prisoners who still languish in prison, reminding us not to forget the relevance of their struggles.

Media artists are also taking a critical look at conditions in prison and the ways in which new technologies have shaped the possibilities for controlling inmates once they have been incarcerated. "Mistreating Prisoners: Health Care Behind Bars," by Women in the Director's Chair, charges that prisoners receive abysmal health care because they are seen as expendable, and documents how the AIDS crisis in prison is growing because corrections officials refuse to acknowledge that people are having sex in prison. "Exploring Alternatives to Prison and Probation," by Jeffrey Tuchman looks at alternative sentencing programs such as a house arrest program where offenders are monitored by a non-removable electronic surveillance bracelet. "The New Gulag," by Kari Mokko , takes us into today's most modern prisons, condemned by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for such conditions as permanent "lock-downs" and bunker-like cells where prisoners are crowded together for up to 23 hours a day.

Talk! Building and maintaining prisons has become one of the most booming businesses in the U.S. today. In "Life Beside Bars," Boston-based artist Felicia Sullivan takes her camera back to her hometown in upstate New York to ask how her neighbors feel about the town's recent decision to build a prison housing largely urban prisoners. Documenting prison economies from another perspective, the California Working Group's "Prison Labor, Prison Blues" exposes some of the companies making big bucks from America's inmate labor force, noting that by the year 2000 30% of the inmate population will be working and yielding $8.9 million in annual sales.

As the "war on crime" tries to justify the money diverted from social services into the new prison economy, it is important for us all to challenge ourselves in how we define crime, how we look upon those people society considers criminals, and whether we believe that prisons should be a rehabilitative force in the lives of those they house or should merely warehouse them forever in bleaker and more desperate conditions. These films are great resources for anyone who wants to become more familiar with not only the issues confronting prison activists but the good work that media makers have put forth in order to contribute to a real critical debate on these issues.   </end>

"Geronimo Pratt" - © 1988 PCTV, Rudman and the Committee to Free Geronimo Pratt "Resistance Conspiracy" - © 1990 Rudman/PCTV "Prison Labor/Prison Blues" - © We do the Work "The New Gulag: America's Prisons" - © Kari Mokko "Mistreating Prisoners: Healthcare Behind Bars" - © Women in the Director's Chair "Life Beside Bars" - © 1992 Against the Wall Productions "Framing the Panthers in Black and White" © 1992 Annie Goldson/Chris Bratton "Lockdown USA" - © Deep Dish TV "Have You Seen la Nueva Mujer Revolucionaria Puertoriquena?" - © 1987 PCTV, Lisa Rudman, the National Committe to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War, and the Free Puerto Rico Committee "Exploring Alternatives to Prison and Probation" © Jeffrey Tuchman

Liz Glamour is an artist and documentary filmmaker living in Brooklyn.