5 Best Prison Life Documentaries

Friday, April 22 by Jackie Barlow

Naming the 5 best prison life documentaries led to some very interesting choices. Prisoners cope with the reality of what their life has become and will continue to be in very different ways. Some documentaries just give a look at what prison life is really like, but there are also positive ways to spend the time that benefits the inmates as well as others.

  1. "Prison Pups" is an upbeat way to start this topic because it tells of four inmates who take puppies, raise them, and train them to be companions for the hearing impaired and handicapped. Concord Farm is a Massachusetts minimum security prison. This documentary shows interviews with these prisoners as they tell how they benefit from not only training these puppies for future humane purposes but also how this interaction with the puppies enhances their lives as well. 
  2. "Birdman of Alcatraz" is a 1962 movie that serves as a documentary that follows a real-life murderer played by Burt Lancaster as he tended to his birds in the San Francisco Bay island prison. Karl Malden shone as the warden, and Telly Savalas was another inmate. 
  3. "Wormwood Scrubs" is a compelling two-part documentary that deals with the different frailties of inmates. It shows what prisons are really like and why some of them fail badly. It is an education for people who have no idea what really happens behind bars. 
  4. "Riot in Cell Block 11" is a 1954 movie which is really a low-budget semi-documentary that was actually filmed at California's Folsom State Prison. Combining brains, brawn, and heart, this is a realistic look at convicts who stage a riot to show the public their inhuman living conditions. It was produced by Walter Wanger, who served a short term in prison himself.
  5. "The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison" is a 1998 documentary video that won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award for "Best Documentary" that year and was also nominated for an Academy Award. This graphic commentary gives the stories of six inmates who cope with the most infamous prison in America, Angola, which was a former 12,000-acre Louisiana slave plantation. 

-Jacklyn Barlow

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