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Holy shit! This is some scary stuff. Netflix’s series, Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, is well-named series currently consisting of four four-episode seasons, with each episode about 45 minutes long. It doesn’t take long to get scary. They start with a prison in Honduras where the guards lock themselves out and leave discipline to the most dangerous of prisoners. They even arm them, and the “warden” is a convicted killer. The interview with the 19-year-old is heartbreaking, but not in the way you might think. He belongs there. Another guy claims he acted in self-defense but still says he wish he hadn’t killed the deceased. Prison is worth than death for him.
From there, it goes to a Polish prison that keeps prisoners in cells 23 hours a day, Mexico, and a couple of overcrowded prisons in the Philippines. That’s just season one. Season two moves on to an understaffed prison in the Ukraine, a prison in Papua New Guinea where constant food shortages create chaos, and an evangelical prison (!?!?) in Belize.
None of these prisons are in the United States, but the show nevertheless reminds me of three concerns I have. First, do whatever you can to stay out of prison. The notion of spending any time there is terrifying for most of us, and the rest of us are just naive. Second, some people truly belong there. I don’t want them roaming the streets and posing a threat to society, so lock them up and make it uncomfortable. Third, we can’t forget that even the hardest prisoners still retain their humanity, and prison often breaks them. I don’t want prison to be easy, but forgetting their humanity assures us that they’ll continue to be a threat once their time in prison is done. We can’t leave most of them in there forever, so I want them returning to society with the assumption that they have a chance to get their lives back on track. It’s a puzzle for which I don’t have the answer, and unfortunately, as with all other complicated problems we face, each of us tends to look at only one side of the story and refuse to budge when presented with criticism. When we pass that sentiment on to our elected representative, we assure that this puzzle will never be solved.
My first draft of this post was written after having watched the first season, and it included a statement that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I’m currently halfway through season 3 and will watch all of season 4. I think I actually got hardened to the imagery after a while. Considering what these prisoners go through, and thus what they may be hardened to, the thought of their release is scary.
This is a very tough watch, but it gives you a lot of food for thought. As always, YMMV.
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