7 Prison Documentaries That Will Blow Your Mind
Published Jan 18, 2021
I think it goes without saying that many people fear the possibility of going to prison. I surely don’t speak for myself in saying that I am deathly afraid of what could happen to me if I ever end up behind bars. Likewise, nobody ever wants to experience the rigid confinement of being locked up in a cell for a part of their lives that they’ll never get back. But it does make you wonder what really goes on in prison facilities and how prison life is like. To give us different perspectives about prisons and the justice system, we’ve come up with a list of several documentaries sure to blow your mind.
13th gets its title from the 13th amendment of the US Constitution. It mainly revolves around the pitfalls or loopholes in the amendment, which transformed slavery from a legal business model to criminals’ punishment. This documentary takes a well-educated approach to dissect the criminal justice system and mass incarceration problem in America. 13th also tackles the unsettling nature of systemic racism that’s been going on for centuries and is more relevant today than ever before. Be warned: you will be shocked and outraged at the end of it.
Back in 2007, a video went viral showing prison inmates dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This was the work of the inmates in the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) in the Philippines, which promoted rehabilitation through recreational dance and happiness. I say that in the past tense because you will see in the docu-series, a drastic paradigm shift occurs in the prison after an ex-con takes over as its manager. After President Duterte took office in 2016, he pushed for a brutal war on drugs, a decision that would cause waves upon waves of impact throughout the country’s justice and prison system. CPDRC was not exempt from that, as the prison’s atmosphere grew foul as the series progressed.
The Fear of 13 brings light to the story of Nick Yarris, who was convicted of rape and murder and spent 22 years on death row in Pennsylvania. His situation was so overbearing that he even asked for an expedited schedule for his execution. However, more than a decade later, he is alive and well to tell us his story. The documentary features Nick recalling his experience in confinement, which was depressing, to put it lightly. This documentary incorporates extremely creative storytelling with unsettling events, equally capable of leaving a lasting mark on you.
Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons is pretty straightforward. It features a host, Paul Connely in the first season and Raphael Rowe in the following seasons, entering the toughest prisons from all over the world. Raphael Rowe is a particularly interesting figure to have as a host, as the UK journalist was a former inmate of 12 years before eventually being acquitted of his crime. The season is going on four seasons, with a fifth installment coming this month. This series gives you a firsthand view of how prison settings are, including how guards treat inmates and the overall living conditions they go through.
The United States has the largest prisoners per capita in the world, and that number only seems to be rising unless something is done. Because of this, Survivors Guide To Prison is a crowdfunded documentary that covers the essential things you should know in case you get yourself tangled up in legal problems. It will go over segments from plea bargains to the difficult life awaiting you after finishing your sentence. The documentary features numerous celebrities, some of whom were former inmates themselves.
Mega jails are prominent in America to house the ever-growing criminal class awaiting their trials. For some, it takes them mere hours to get in and out of this jail, but for others, it can be years. Conditions inside these jails are incredibly dire, with dark and crowded cells filled with many disgruntled inmates. Louis Theroux flew from the UK to Miami to get a firsthand look and understanding of one of the most violent jailhouse floors in all of America. During his stay, he interviews different inmates to receive much-needed insight into the apparent culture of violence. This documentary can leave overbearing feelings of sadness and disbelief that this stuff is going on in your own backyard.
Now, this documentary is possibly the most unique on this list. Instead of focusing on prisons, it focuses on prisoners, particularly those on death row. This Netflix series ventured to pick the brains of several murderers on the events that led up to the crime and whether they’re remorseful for their actions. Some of the replies are simply bone-chilling, with many viewers tagging this docu-series as “terrifying.”
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About The Author
Terrence Tan Ting is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.