TTP-poster-with-HBO-13

Toe Tag Parole premiers Monday, August 3rd at 9pm on HBO.

A: When it is a Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentence.

While criminal justice reformers, D.C. politicos, President Obama and the like are pressing for change they all too often focus on arguments for the release of non-violent (usually drug) offenders. Releasing that “category” of prisoner though doesn’t deal adequately with mass incarceration or prison overcrowding. We need, as a society, to look at how we treat those who are imprisoned for the longest sentences, how they got their and what we can do as a community to scale back on the vengeance and violence inherent to the prison system.

A literal life sentence is commonly referred to as Life Without Parole or LWOP. Activists tend to use the term Death By Incarceration.

In all other circumstances, parole is a complex and varied thing, but when the possibility of parole is removed it’s far simpler … and more brutal.

On HBO on Monday, there’s a documentary Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on the Yard, by Oscar-winning filmmakers 
Alan and Susan Raymond about LWOP.

To tell the story of LWOP, the Raymonds found an unusual facility in Los Angeles County, a maximum-security facility in the Mojave Desert. Yard A at California State Prison is the The Progressive Programming Facility — a space that committed LWOP prisoners and the California Department of Corrections forged together. With laws and sentences unlikely to change for those who are deemed the most dangerous, the “most dangerous” went about finding their own solutions.

Yard A — which inmates call The Honor Yard — is a prison yard is free of violence, racial tensions, gang activity and illegal drug and alcohol use. It’s the only type of its kind in the nation. 600 men living in The Progressive Programming Facility and seek self-improvement and spiritual growth through education, art and music therapy, religious services and participation in peer-group sessions.

The press release reads:

Ken Hartman, who beat a man to death at age 19 while drunk, and has been in prison for 36 years, says, “There’s a progression that these things go through. People used to be stoned to death and then they were shot and then they were hung, they were electrocuted. Each step along the way always the argument is made that this is a better kind of death penalty. I’m sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole. It’s not better than the death sentence, because it is the death sentence.”

It promises to be a wonderful film. In an ideal world though, extraordinary efforts by men inside wouldn’t be needed because many of them would be offered the opportunity for improvement and release by the structures of the state.

Advertisements