If you want to be moved, go to the visiting room. If you want to hear how people can change, go to the visiting room. It’s a project based on interviewing and filming a 100 lifers at Angola State Prison in Louisiana, all those interviewed have been there at least 20 years. It’s a notorious prison and it holds more lifers without parole than any other state in the country, many convicted of second degree murder, a charge that in Louisiana asks for life without parole. The visiting room is also a website holding these interviews which anyone can visit and listen to. So often the idea of life with parole tends to be an abstraction, and one of the project’s creators, Dr. Marcus Kondkar, a sociology professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, wanted to show how it impacts individual people’s lives. Watching the interviews one becomes aware of the pathos of those lives. Most were young when they entered the system, not educated, without the knowledge of how the justice system works, without adequate defense, in some cases they would meet their attorney the day of the trial. Most of these lifers are black and the issues of race is inescapable. Their stories expose the harsh life of prison, their childhood, their regrets, their wishes, the desire for mercy and redemption. To me the project and its website show the need to reevaluate our criminal justice system. Is putting people away really an answer? These inmates are out of sight and out of mind and ought we not to realize that people can change, that punishing people by life in prison deprives us of what they could have given to society? As such the project becomes a message that we need to rethink our conclusions about criminality.
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