The Work review: Folsom Prison blues on screen

A powerful documentary that goes behind prison walls

The Work is a documentary that goes inside Folsom State Prison to chronicle a series of intense therapy sessions between inmates and men from the outside world. What unfolds is no ordinary therapy.

The Inside the Circle Foundation which runs the programme describes their work as ‘spiritual’. Guided by volunteer facilitators, both the prisoners and the outsiders exorcise deeply-hidden traumas and memories. There are no clinical psychologists or academically-qualified people in sight (one practitioner described himself at a preview screening as a ‘recovering clinician.’), yet the sense of relief felt by this disparate group of men is palpable as they start to breakdown the facades each has built to conceal their pain.

The Work’s observational style – no interviews or staged interventions – makes for a tense, suspenseful film that is clear of purpose and integrity: the filmmakers, Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous, took part in the intense therapy programme off-camera during the eight-year’s it took them to plan and shoot the documentary. Watching armed robbers and multiple-murderers pushed to the brink emotionally is quite something.

But is what transpires in these sessions too good to be true? All of the prisoners are serving lengthy sentences, with some earning parole. Of those who are allowed out, none have so far have returned to prison. Similar UK programmes don’t always provide such fairytale endings, as a piece in this week’s Spectator explores.

The ‘crisis of masculinity’ and the ‘loneliness epidemic’ are increasingly familiar buzz-phrases,  but The Work shows – and powerfully – what can practically be achieved when pre-judgment is put to one side and painful experiences are shared.

The Work is out now. Find screenings here or watch it via iTunes


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