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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Work


Distributor: Dogwoof
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 27 November 2017

California's notorious Folsom Prison – immortalised by Johnny Cash – houses some of the toughest inmates in the US prison system. But it has also become the site of a groundbreaking experiment that offers its prisoners a sense of hope – and helps those from the outside world make sense of their lives too. This unique four-day group therapy session is charted in The Work, a film that looks in on prisoners and civilians going through an intense session that is as mentally tough as Folsom is physically brutal. And as vicious and merciless as this world is, the sessions offer prisoners and those from outside the walls a chance at rehabilitation, redemption and saviour...

The Work is an interesting documentary that takes a peak inside an enlightening group therapy with a difference, for the participants are some of the most violent inmates of California's notorious Folsom Prison. Mixed in with them are a number of law abiding citizens who together must help each other through an intense four day therapy session attempting to confront and lay to rest their inner demons.

I have to admit, like the civilians participating in the documentary, that my idea of prison is only shaped by the media. So, when this film started, a little voice in my head was trying to find fault with the inmates. Were they participating in the therapy, and deliberately acting up, in order to get brownie points? Surely this looks good on your prison record.

In fact my fears were, I thought, founded when two of the prisoners remarked that they had a "live one" on meeting their outsider and then proceeded to high five each other. But they then remarked that it was just "like looking in a mirror". I didn't understand what they meant until the film progressed and this individual revealed himself to be quite full of self hatred and loathing, which manifested itself as contempt towards others.

As the film unfolds you quickly see that those from outside - those law abiding citizens - are just as damaged as those in prison. And, in fact, in one instance, could so easily have ended up banged up - he's a damaged individual who hides behind sarcasm and contempt for those around him. The prisoners, on the other hand, all seem to be trying to wrestle with their inner demons and make themselves better and less haunted individuals.

I'm not overly sure if four days of therapy is enough, but then it's been running for years and the success rate speak for themselves - not a single inmate who has participated in the program, and been released, has gone back inside.

It's an eye opening film and it made me wish that we did something like this in the UK - I'd certainly be interested in participating.

Extras include Sheffield Doc/Fest Q&A with directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous (29 min, 13 sec) and Theatrical trailer (1 min, 14 sec).


Darren Rea

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