However, hope isn’t vanquished for every scathed soul locked up in shackles. The Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG) is put in place to exhume the causes of an inmate’s crime, and rigorously scrutinize its effect on survivors and themselves. Sonya Shah, Founder/Director of The Ahimsa Collective, goes on to describe the innate functionality of trauma: “…trauma turns inward, and folk starts to hurt themselves, or trauma can turn outwards, and people can hurt other people.” The VOEG process guides these prisoners to analyze their actions and forgive past abusers. A pivotal component of the restorative process is having the convicts map out a timeline of their moments that impacted them most. Another step toward healing is then having them write a letter of forgiveness to someone that has wounded them. Through this unorthodox practice, the captives will be able to empathize with the trauma their abuser may have experienced. Soon enough, Sam Johnson Sr. reads a letter to his abusive (but now deceased) dad in a two-minute scene that’s poignant, heartbreaking and life-affirming.
“As the VOEG project continues to take piercing effect, the punctured hearts and souls of these convicts become more soulful and complete.”
Ruth Mendelson’s plangent piano score is compatible with the dolorous climate of Hervey’s documentary, particularly considering how the convict interviews are distressingly authentic. On a different note, the shots emphasizing the geography, the convicts, or victims aren’t always prudently executed. The camera is sometimes unnecessarily busy, fluctuating between angles and attempting to capture a few reaction shots, but these shots aren’t always controlled or essential.
It’s difficult to forgive a murderer, especially when it’s the victim who’s trying to find the right words — but if those clement words are ever uttered, the victim exudes great courage and strength. The Justice System doesn’t do enough to stop criminals from implementing the same crimes. And more glaringly, the system doesn’t dig deeper to uncloak where the criminal’s wrath and woe stem from. As the VOEG project continues to take piercing effect, the punctured hearts and souls of these convicts become more soulful and complete. As a viewer, you become inspired by their perseverance, seeping vulnerability, and tactile tears. The Prison Within is a documentary of healing and compassion, a daring one for that matter that’ll dispute public misconceptions about those in prison.
The Prison Within screened at the 2020 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
"…Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence."