HBO Documentary Films: ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Doc-logo2Overview: Incarcerated young people enter the famed Miami-Dade County Corrections & Rehabilitation Boot Camp Program in search of a second chance: the opportunity to trade an extensive prison sentence for a fresh start. In this harsh, 16-week camp, drill instructors push inmates to their limit, but those who complete it can become constructive members of society who are substantially less likely to return to prison. The program reports a Docs_RockandaHardPlace-300x169recidivism rate under 15%, while the national rate of prison recidivism is approximately 70%.

Inspired by Dwayne Johnson’s own experiences with the law as a youth, Rock and a Hard Place is a passion project for Johnson, who calls it one of the most important films he’s been associated with. The documentary follows the inmates through each phase of the camp, beginning with the brutal first weeks, which are marked by constant verbal confrontation, physical training and strict military-style discipline. As the weeks go by, cadets attend anger-management classes, learn vocational skills and are surprised by “protocol tests” that measure their progress and patience.


Expectations: Well, clearly this documentary would not exist if this was not a successful Boot Camp program nor would Dwayne Johnson be seen endorsing it if it weren’t effective. From the trailer, you can tell that this is an intense military-style regimen designed to break each inmate down, reevaluate their station & circumstances and then rebuild them back into a member of society, not a career criminal.

It will be interesting to see how many of these participants we get to know and how much a role Mr. Johnson factors into it.

Gut Reaction: First, let’s get the quick question out of the way. Executive producer Dwayne Johnson appears at the beginning and at the end. He addresses the incoming cadets of 38 and he speaks at the graduation of 33 of them, all changed men, four months later. It had to be this way I am sure because he could not really be involved in the process as he would have tainted it. Equally hard, is the presence of the camera. The chosen inmates don’t interact with it at all which you’d think would be quite difficult. The drill instructors must have, obDocs_RAAHPpic2-300x203viously prohibited them from doing so. Never did a cameraman try to get a Q & A. they were simply observing through the lens. And the cadets, deep in training, seemed to forget they were even present, especially in those when they were getting rare moments to talk to family, when they broke down to weep alone or when they were too exhausted to lift their heads.

This cinematic approach was most effective. Only the instructors got personal camera time. But, despite the distance, we still get to ‘meet’ a few of the participants. There were the disadvantaged Hispanics who knew no English and the shy scrawny inmates who struggled to keep up. Plus, there were those you couldn’t conform and ended back in gen pop. One big dramatic moment occurred when two inmates fled when they were granted rights to pick up trash along the highway. A manhunt was called to reel the escaped convicts in crushing their hopes of completing the course and adding more sentences to their list of offenses. Of the initial 38, 33 made it through the program and you end up rooting for them as they complete it. It is back-breaking, as well as mentally & emotionally exhausting. But all worth it to earn their freedom back.


In Conclusion: This documentary verifies that the Miami-Dade County Corrections & Rehabilitation Boot Camp Program is a success. It can effectively take young offenders, and through this intense program, turn them back into society and ROCK AND A HARD PLACE is just as effective at illustrating that.


Next: HBO returns to a subject it hasn’t broached in a while with ABORTION: STORIES WOMEN TELL debuting Monday, April 03 at 8:00pm.

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