22 August 2017



'This is work. This is some ugly-ass shit.'


The Work is a remarkable piece of reportage’ Hollywood Reporter

Intimate, intensely emotional…powerfully underlines the ability of documentary to transport the viewer to places they would otherwise never encounter’ Screen Daily

In cinemas 8 September 2017

Johnny Cash immortalised this American correctional facility in his song FOLSOM PRISON BLUES. So too did Krusty the Klown from THE SIMPSONS, when he parodied the song on a visit to Springfield Penitentiary and finished up on the spoof lyrics 'I'm just visiting Folsom Prison, I get to sleep at home tonight...!' Did it go down well with the inmates? You bet your ass it didn't.

Anyway, something rather unusual goes on inside Folsom Prison, aside from all the beatings and sexual assaults we normally associate with a hard-ass mens' nick such as this one, where dropping the soap in the shower is considered to be an open invitation to a butt-raping you'll never forget, haha. Don't give me a hard time for saying that. It's, like, in every prison movie or prison spoof or cartoon ever and you know it is...!

Group therapy, not the unusual thing in itself, takes place inside the prison with a view to rehabilitating the chaps who sign up for it. I don't know, actually, if it's compulsory or if you have a choice in the matter. For rapists and child abusers, most people seem to think that it should be compulsory. How well it would work, of course, would be another matter.

Guess what, though? Once or twice every year, the prison opens its doors to civilian males who for whatever reason would like to join the inmates in a four-day intensive therapy session. There'll be inmates and outsiders, together with a number of trained facilitators, and each outsider is allowed to choose one or two inmates to be their prison 'guide,' but they're only guides in the therapy sense. There ain't gon' be no tour of no prison no-how, this ain't no pleasure outing, you mutha-******...!

Some outsiders will choose to come along to the sessions because they're seeking clarity and reassurance in their own lives. Others, like Brian whom no-one really took to at first because he admits himself that he's a judgemental prick, are coming because they like the sense of danger they'll get from being inside a prison with some of the most dangerous criminals in the state. Seems like kind of a jerk-off reason to me, but whatever. We must be open-minded to all comers, apparently, even the jerk-off ones.

Kiki, a member of an Asian prison gang, gets the ball rolling by admitting that he's never grieved for his sister. He wants to grieve for her till the floodgates finally open and let him suffer properly, he tells his fellow group members. The heavily tattooed and bandana'd men around him cajole, encourage and even bully him a little into really letting go of his 'barriers' and feeling that pain.

They're there to hold him back or hold him down physically if needs be. Kiki duly lets go of everything barring his bowels and really, really 'feels' the pain. The men are only satisfied
when he's prostrate on the ground, bawling like a baby. The men are pleased. Kiki has done some real good 'work' right there. That's what the title means, by the way.

Dante, who's holding up a sign with all his postal details on it saying 'LADIES! PLEASE WRITE ME!,' is a young black male who misses his young son so much he's contemplating suicide. Another black male wearing specs and a bead necklace, whom I've nicknamed 'the healer' because he gets involved in so many other guys' problems, makes him promise to wait ninety days before he does anything irreversible.

In those ninety days, they'll try to work something out, promises the healer. (You can tell that this isn't his first time doing this, by the way, because he's just so practised at it.) That bit's great, of course, but the sight of the healer standing literally nose-to-nose with Dante repeating 'Do you feel me?' into his face is a little alarming and space-invader-ish.

You're bound to 'feel' someone who's standing that close to you, it must be said. Their respective genitals were practically popping out and saying a friendly hello to each other and inviting each other in for a nice cup of tea, they're standing that bloody close.

I didn't really feel for or believe in the sufferings of the 'former member of the Aryan Brotherhood,' who's apparently been a heroin addict for twenty-years to block out the pain of not knowing who his real dad was and of being betrayed by his motorbike gang.

Okay, I accept that he's had a really shitty time of it in the past, but I can't help wondering as well what crimes he may have committed as part of the 'Aryan Brotherhood' and how he really feels about all the black guys he's surrounded with in prison. I'm sorry but I just don't trust this guy or totally believe in his willingness to be rehabilitated.

Dark Cloud, the physically imposing member of a Native American prison gang, cheerfully admits to nearly chopping a guy in half and paralysing him for life. In almost the same breath, he says that he doesn't want to beat people up any more. He wants to make himself 'vulnerable' to the group but he's scared to do so because 'every time he makes himself vulnerable, he gets hurt.' I ain't sayin' nuthin.'

The little floppy-haired 'outsider' who specifically states at the outset that he doesn't want to cry ends up sobbing like a little girl over the rejection he feels he got from his father. He re-enacts a particular scene he remembers with an elderly black prisoner playing the role of his father. The group sees to it that he gets the acceptance he's seeking.

Brian's an interesting case. He's the outsider who says he's doing this to feel the danger. He has an attitude that pisses a lot of the other men off. 'In my mind, I'm a fucking prince!' He says he wants to kill the people who 'don't respect him.'

Some intensive therapy from the group reveals that Brian feels that he was never good enough for his Dad. Is that why he's worked on his arm muscles to the point where they're as big and powerful as Popeye's? His cries of pain are positively primal but don't worry about it, the other men have all got his back. And his head and his legs and his willy as well, by the looks of it...! Those are some pretty intimate scrums they're all getting into there.

Again and again, the men show us how affected they were by the lack or loss of a Dad growing up. A long line of deadbeat Dads has only led to more deadbeat Dads and an even longer line of fatherless sons who may well grow up to grow old in Folsom Prison as well, because of the gaping hole left in their childhoods by their fathers. I understand that perfectly.

Scrabbling about in that particular wound is horrendously painful. No child deserves to be brought up without love and the knowledge that they're wanted, and yet it happens all the time. It's certainly at the root of most of these guys' problems.

It wasn't, apparently, their mothers who betrayed them but their absentee fathers. Well, whaddya know? Some of them just plant their seed but don't stick around to see it grow. Maybe one day we'll pass a law that says whoever fathers a child is responsible for that child. But you'll always get these guys who'll find some way of wriggling out of their responsibilities.

So, does this type of rehabilitation work on these hardened criminals then? The prison says it does and that the recidivism rate for participants of the programme is low. Hmmm. I'd like to see a follow-up show, catching up with these exact same guys in, say, a year's time or whatever, see how they're getting on with things away from the cameras.

I can't help wondering what iconic HBO mobster Tony Soprano would think of it all. 'Whatever happened to Gary Cooper?' he used to moan even as he sat himself in the chair across from Dr. Jennifer Melfi for his weekly therapy sessions in hit show THE SOPRANOS. 'Whatever happened to the strong silent type? Where have all the real men gone?' I think I can answer that, Tony my man. They're all in Folsom Prison crying for their Daddies.

THE WORK is a DOGWOOF documentary.


About Dogwoof:

Dogwoof is the UK’s leading documentary film distributor and sales agent. Founded in 2004, notable Dogwoof successes include The Age of Stupid, Restrepo, Undefeated, Blackfish, The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence and Cartel Land. 2017 titles include Dancer, Nick Broomfield’s Whitney ‘Can I Be Me’, and City of Ghosts by Academy Award nominated director Matthew Heineman. The company recently launched its first film investment fund, focusing on the development & production of feature docs, remake rights and series, gearing up the company towards vertical integration.



Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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