Prisons might seem like a strange place to screen a documentary about the nation's failed war on drugs and its direct contribution to our booming prison industrial complex, but that's exactly what filmmaker and occasional HuffPost blogger Eugene Jarecki has been doing.
Showing it to both inmates and prison staff, Jarecki is taking "The House I Live In" on a tour around the country.
Earlier this year, he brought the film to Joseph Harp Correctional Center, a medium security prison in Lexington, Okla. "This American Life" producer Brian Reed was on hand to document the event, as 35 inmates -- most of whom had been impacted by the war on drugs in some way, either jailed for drug-related crimes or by drug use itself -- sat next to a dozen of the corrections officers who are responsible for keeping them there.
(A clip of the video above, via YouTube)
Mike Carpenter, a security officer in Oklahoma's medium/maximum security prison system was there that day. He was also in "The House I Live In." Here's just part of what he had to say in it:
"I think sometimes we have people doing a whole lot of time for not very much crime," Carpenter said during an interview with Jarecki. "It's almost like they're paying for our fear, instead of paying for their crime."
That stance was actually not uncommon among correctional facility staff, Reed said. Many of the people who are integral to prison infrastructure understand the effects that the nation's justice system and failed war on drugs have had on it. After all, they witness it happening first-hand, every day, and in not-so-slow motion.
Here's what Lt. Cecil Dooley at Joseph Harp Correctional Center told Reed about what he saw as a disturbing trend.
"The fact that we have now taken people and made them a monetary commodity," he said. "Right now the big thing is the push to privatization. To make money off of prisons, to make money off of people's lives, to make money to incarcerate people. That to me, seems backwards."
(Listen to more from Dooley as he has a discussion with a prison inmate in the segment below.)
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder took a first step toward reform, announcing that the Justice Department will no longer list drug quantities in indictments of certain low-level drug offenders, allowing defendants who lack ties to gangs, violence and large-scale drug trafficking organizations to avoid harsh mandatory minimums.
It's a step forward, but it only touches upon a small part of the ineffective war on drugs. Below, watch an interview with Kevin Ott from "The House I Live In." Ott is serving life without parole in Oklahoma for a non-violent drug trafficking charge after being caught with three ounces of methamphetamine more than 17 years ago. He was sentenced under the state's mandatory minimum sentencing law, under which "trafficking in controlled dangerous substances after two or more prior drug-related convictions" carries an automatic life sentence without parole.
There may be hope for Ott, as there has been discussion in the state about addressing its crowded prison population by reforming sentences for nonviolent offenders. Like many efforts in this arena, however, change has been slow and setbacks have been frequent. A state prison reform plan still remains unfunded more than a year after being passed.