Inside Peace is a documentary film taking you behind the bars of Dominguez State Jail, a Texan prison that introduced a programme of peace classes to promote change, reflection and self improvement for its inmates. Immediately this concept sounds like an interesting, vital tool that should already be built in to the criminal justice system so to see it in action makes an intriguing premise for a documentary.
Recently Louis Theroux has cornered the market (so to speak) in American prison documentaries, stepping in to these closed environments with his trademark calm and quiet nature. What makes his documentaries so watchable, beyond Louis himself, is the individuals that we are introduced to and learn more about. People are what make a great documentary film. This is the strength of Inside Peace as a piece of filmmaking, it allows us the opportunity to follow a group of men as they participate in peace classes and try to move forward with their life. It is the personal stories of Jake, Chase, Trinidad and David that are the hook to keep you watching. Ultimately we are all attracted to a human story that we can in some way relate to, even when the circumstances seem so far removed from our own.
The film allows the men to speak in their own words, sharing on a personal level emotions and struggles that are both honest and moving. Many of the men admit that they went along to the peace class merely because the room was air conditioned, or that they’d heard you could get a pen and some paper (which they knew they could ‘sell’ for something else back in their cell later.) This blunt truth feels fair, why should these men think they are going to get anything else from a class like this? However, week after week, reflecting on what’s inside begins to spark a change, to make them feel differently about themselves, to make them feel worthy. It’s heartbreaking yet entirely understandable why they haven’t felt like this before.
Listening to Trinidad and David, their words challenge your perceptions about who these men are, whilst their ability to express themselves is moving and at times exceptionally eloquent. Filmed over the course of years and interspersed with interviews from the prison officers and warden, it may have been interesting to have seen or heard more about exactly what happens in class, but perhaps this internal experience is hard to capture on camera.
The struggles the men face when they are released from jail are frustrating and unfair and the film doesn’t appear to offer any easy answers or false promises. It does however offer the hope that the issues of life can be dealt with and it makes clear to me that we that more needs to be done to facilitate and support people that have served their time. We have a responsibility to give people every opportunity to be a part of society.
What makes film such a powerful medium is that on a personal level everyone takes something away from what they’ve watched. Inside Peace succeeds in challenging stereotypes and provoking the need for change. It’s heartening to know that peace classes such as these have rolled out further afield. Here in the United Kingdom, both HMP Thameside and HMP Doncaster have run classes and four other prisons are set to follow suit. It may seem like slow progress but it is progress all the same.
Discover more online at Inside Peace