Prison: A Survivor’s Guide

Graphic by Cara Young

by Kelly Kuhn, Columnist


I was asked to watch the documentary, “Survivors Guide to Prison.” I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was this going to a comedy documentary or a real documentary? Well it turned out to be an eye opening, jaw-dropping look at our nation’s prison system. To say “OMG” is an understatement. It started with Susan Sarandon hard line, “You call 911 in an emergency and get arrested simply because the officer doesn’t like you.”

One of my personal failings is to just sometimes hear something and nod along. I mean we know that porkchops don’t come from HEB wrapped in cellophane, but we just don’t talk or think about the reality. Just like prison. We know that criminals are sentenced to X number of years, depending on the crime. We get a glimpse of prison when there is an undercover story and we accept it as truth.

You may read or hear a story about an innocent person being convicted and sentenced to prison. Like most people I thought, “oh, “John Doe” has been innocently convicted, they will just file some paperwork and within a few days, Doe would be home.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The criminal justice system is broken,” Jeffrey Deskovic, an executive producer of the new documentary “Survivor’s Guide to Prison.” He should know. At the age of 17, Deskovic was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl and sentenced to 15 years in prison — despite the fact that his DNA didn’t match the perpetrator’s. After his release, Deskovic founded the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation and dedicated his life to exonerating and preventing wrongful convictions.

Gradually, “Survivors Guide to Prison” narrows its focus to concentrate on two wrongly convicted men, Reggie Cole and Bruce Lisker, who spent decades behind bars because ambitious and/or ill-trained police officers and prosecutors rushed to judgment, then relied on a system geared toward covering their mistakes. Cole is African-American and Lisker is white, and that doubtless is what director Matthew Cooke wants to stress: When it comes to miscarriages of justice in our country, no one is safe from being a victim of a system that stacks the deck against those who cannot afford adequate legal defense.

I would strongly recommend that anyone who has an interest in Civil Rights watch this documentary. But do not fear, not all is lost. While this documentary is full on mind numbing statistics, there is hope. You’ll have to Google it, but about year ago there was an amazing story on 60 Minutes highlighting German Prisons. I highly recommend you take a look at that one to give you hope. Also, don’t forget what the director says, “This isn’t a documentary, it’s a movement.”

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