Overview: America is the most punitive nation in the world, handing out historically harsh sentences that largely dispense with the concept of rehabilitation. Alan and Susan Raymond explore the reality of “the other death penalty” in TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A. Featuring exclusive, unprecedented access, this documentary was shot entirely at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, a maximum-security facility in the Mojave Desert.
In 2000, a California State Prison inmate serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) approached the warden to request a dedicated yard for men serving life sentences that would break the code of violence dominating prison life. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) subsequently transformed Yard A at California State Prison into The Progressive Programming Facility, which inmates call The Honor Yard. The only one of its kind in the United States, this experimental prison yard is free of violence, racial tensions, gang activity and illegal drug and alcohol use.
Expectations: I guess it all has to do with the direction this documentary takes. It could be a real controversial one depending on its tone. I could see where less liberal minds could be put off by the notion that criminals are allowed small amenities for good behavior when they are supposed to be suffering for their crimes. Or, perhaps the whole 80 minutes are like the trailer and just interviews from inmates and staff about dealing with life in the facility. I’ll weigh in after I watch it.
Gut Reaction: TOE TAG PAROLE proved to be more about the inmates’ stories than anything. It was all about living with what they have done and how they cope with prison life. They are better at dealing with the circumstances in the Progressive Programming facility than if they were in the gen pop blocks across the way. I believe it is solely due to the fact that the usual prison political system is not allowed to function in that facility. Whether or not it all matters depends on the viewer’s stance on corporal punishment. I mean, they are going to die in prison so what does it matter whether they are rehabilitated to function in society when they are never going to get out from behind those walls into society anyway?
It all has to do with how humane society wants to be with the incarcerated. Don’t look at this documentary, however, to examine or discuss that issue. It is an underlying theme, but is not spoken by the filmmakers, though some prisoners do ponder if they can be redeemed. It is about life in prison and how to make the best of it and that this unique program allows them to do just that.
In Conclusion: In summation, as the men of The Honor Yard say, “They will get out when they get their Toe Tag Parole,” meaning death by incarceration. Unless under lockdown all inmates are allowed some supervised free time in the yard, right? So why not be allowed to play music, paint murals or play basketball. That is less time they are spent shanking others are selling dope , right? Hey, I don’t mind the notion of doling out such privileges now and again. To keep them respectful and in line you need to give the poor dog a bone. Criminals they may be (they are getting life without parole0), but they are still human.
TOE TAG PAROLE actually debuted back on 08.03, but this writer is playing catch-up having been away. It can be found on HBONow/Go and On Demand.
Next Week: One of my favorites of the year THE NEWBURGH STING repeated on Monday, 08.10. it is worth finding on HBONow/Go.