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Over the past decade, documentary filmmaker Edgar Barens has explored the many issues at play in the American criminal justice system.

For his most recent project Prison Terminal, Barens was granted unprecedented access to the Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP).

Prison Terminal is a moving cinema verité documentary that breaks through the walls of one of America’s oldest maximum security prisons to tell the story of the final months in the life of a terminally ill prisoner and the hospice volunteers, they themselves prisoners, who care for him.

The Iowa Department of Corrections allowed Barens round-the-clock access to the ISP hospice and almost uniquely – to my knowledge – a space for him to cobble together living quarters and a production studio in the prison’s basement.

Jack “Comrade” Hall. Hospice Patient, Iowa State Penitentiary.

Bertram “Herky” Berkett. Inmate Hospice Volunteer

Prison Terminal is more than a documentary: it is a hub for information and context. You’ll need to spend some time with the biographies of those involved, a host of video shorts and general essays about the prison industrial complex.

Prior to working in Iowa, Barens also documented the hospice program at Angola Prison – a well photographed program probably best known through Lori Waselchuk’s Grace Before Dying.

These two hospice programs remain exceptional in America’s correctional landscape, but it is Barens’ hope that Prison Terminal will assist in making these services permanent throughout U.S. prisons, ensuring that inmates no longer have to die alone.

Charles “Woo” Watkins. Inmate Hospice Volunteer.

Larry “Big Papa”. Hospice Patient

Inmate Hospice Volunteers (Front: Bertram Berkett, Michael Glover Back Row: Michael Williams, Charles Watkins.)


Edgar Barens received his Bachelors degree and Masters of Fine Arts in Cinema and Photography from Southern Illinois University, where he concentrated on photography and film production. His body of work includes documentary films, experimental shorts, music videos and public service announcements, which have been screened at film festivals, conferences, broadcast internationally as well as distributed educationally.

You can view all Prison Terminal videos here.

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All images © Edgar Barens


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