Located on an Appalachian mountaintop in Wise County, Va., Red Onion State Prison is a “supermax” facility built to house individual inmates in 8’x10’ solitary-confinement cells, 23 hours a day, for months, years and sometimes decades.
Directed by Kristi Jacobson, SOLITARY: INSIDE RED ONION STATE PRISON explores life on both sides of the bars, raising provocative questions about punishment in America today. A revealing examination of the uses and effects of solitary confinement, and the people caught in the complex American penal system, the film debuts MONDAY FEB. 6 (10:00-11:30 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.
Drawing on unprecedented, unrestricted access, SOLITARY: INSIDE RED ONION STATE PRISON was filmed over the course of one year, chronicling a new reform program intended to reduce the number of solitary-confinement inmates. The recently initiated “Step-Down Program” has allowed more than 350 inmates a chance to return to the general population. But all too often, after months of solitary isolation, prisoners are ill-equipped to deal with the stresses of being a part of the regular prison population – let alone life on the outside.
This unflinching, immersive documentary features intimate interviews with several inmates who reflect on their violent childhoods, open up about the dangers of prison life and articulate their struggles to maintain sanity in the unrelenting monotony and isolation of confinement. Interwoven with these stories are observations of corrections officers, who describe the toll their stressful jobs can take in a community with few employment opportunities.
SOLITARY: INSIDE RED ONION STATE PRISON captures the chilling sounds and haunting atmosphere of daily life at Red Onion, focusing on the effect of loneliness and isolation on the prisoners’ mental health. Inmate Michael says, “If you don’t feel like you’re relevant to nobody in that cell, then it will make you just want to lose your damn mind. You know, just go crazy.”