The Work 2017
Distributed by Passion River Films, 154 Mt. Bethel Rd., Warren, NJ 07059; 732-321-0711
Directed by Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous
DVD, color, 88 min.
Prison, Crime, Psychology
Date Entered: 12/11/2018Reviewed by Johnnie N. Gray, Director of Media Services, Christopher Newport University
Group therapy in a prison setting seems like a standard way of working through issues and overcoming past trauma. In this documentary, non traditional ways of dealing with issues from the past are used in a retreat that invites men from the outside to join those who are incarcerated.
The Work follows several men coming into Folsom Prison to participate in a four day retreat to sort out issues in their own lives. These men are not fully fleshed out in character and the viewer is left wondering why they have chosen to participate in these makeshift therapy sessions. It may be because the idea of seeing men locked up could be what they would become if they make the wrong choices going forward in life. The therapy the men are exposed to is based around an idea that acknowledging the trauma holding you back and facing it head on, helps you move past it and be a better man. This “work” seems lopsided in efficacy with some men speaking more than others. As you watch the sessions that are conducted by inmates, yelling, screaming and sobbing are heard in the background. The setting is threatening and anxiety ridden at times and yet, the sessions are still happening in several groups. At one point, one of the men from the outside, lets out an inhuman growl - which is interpreted as him having touched on that part of himself that is still tormenting him as an adult. Weepy confessionals abound as the camera hovers over the inmates. A motley cast of inmates from assorted gang members attempt to help, but at what cost? The entire program does not appear to be sound therapy or have a direction with a clear end.
The most concerning issue at hand is that this kind of therapy may be doing more harm than good. It seems to center around confronting and reliving a traumatic experience, confronting it head on, followed by acting out and being broken down emotionally. This does not seem to be based on any mainstream therapy. If it were, it would give the documentary more credence. I don’t see any usefulness in the classroom for this film. Those curious about prison life and personal stories would find this entertaining, but not educational. One wonders why this was even put to film as the purpose is hazy at best.