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By Phil Hall | September 15, 2008

Lisa Gray’s short documentary “Life Sentence” interviews four men and two women who served extended prison terms for very serious crimes (most were incarcerated for felony murder). Each person describes the circumstances that led to their imprisonment, then they describe the epiphanies they received while behind bars for resurrecting their lives (higher education degrees were the answer), and then they recall the frustration of failing to achieve parole in their initial attempts at early release.

All of the six people, along with a few outsiders including a New York assemblyman, argue that education is key to bringing down recidivism rates – but the argument comes a bit late, considering that Congress abolished federal funding for prison-based college programs in 1994.

On the surface, it is highly commendable that the individuals presented on camera were able to turn into productive and law-abiding citizens following their respective releases back into society.

But the film loses points by allowing its six former prisoners to paint themselves as victims of a cruel and punitive system. One never gets a genuine sense of remorse regarding the original crimes that spurred their incarceration, only the sense of personal losses they experienced by being imprisoned for prolonged periods. This represents a manipulative pity party, and even with a half-hour running time “Life Sentence” quickly becomes too much of a bad thing.

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