“Into the Abyss,” “Lockup,” and surviving in prison

 

Whenever I watch a badass action movie I picture myself as the leading man. I can’t help it, it’s the man child in me at its finest. I think to myself, “Pshht, James Bond isn’t that sweet. If I had years of training and a foxy model on my arm I’d be able to kill those Russian soldiers just as easily. Probably would’ve gotten back to my martini quicker, too.” The same goes for comedy (in my mind Will Ferrell is nothing compared to my would-be jokes) and reality shows (If I was Ronnie I’d never be so hung up on Sam, single Ronnie all day bro).

The problem is I don’t have a clue what would happen if I were ever on Lockup or in the soon-to-be on DVD documentary, Into the Abyss.  Lockup focuses on the American subculture that is prison, you’ve seen it on MSNBC if you’ve ever have had trouble sleeping at night. The producers interview wardens, rapists, and mass murders while also catching fights, drugs, and weapon smuggling on film.

 

Into the Abyss has a narrower scope, it’s a movie about a single triple homicide that happened in Texas. Herzog (the documentarian behind Grizzly Man) interviews the death row inmate, the inmate’s family, and a state executioner, among others. They’re both gritty and depressing examples of a society in a society.

 

It’s probably more my own narcissism than anything, but whenever I watch Lockup during a bout of insomnia and when I sat down to watch Into the Abyss I can’t help and think about number one. What if I was interviewing these people? What if I was the guard making sure the inmate doesn’t go psycho during this interview? What if I was handcuffed to the chair?

Now, the prison system is definitely a disaster. With the recidivist rate at almost 75%, it’s more of a time out from society than a rehabilitation system. The Department of Justice “corrects” convicts just as often as they piss away of millions of tax dollars a year, actually they do the latter more. Which is why these doc’s are so powerful, particularly Into the Abyss. Herzog is somehow able to look at one of the most loaded subjects in the land (the death penalty, in Texas no less) and analyze it objectively. He points out why some people think it’s necessary and why others can’t fathom why it’s used (the Texas state executioner’s story is particularly powerful).

While Into the Abyss is a bummer from beginning to end, every episode of Lockup has some lighter moments, even if they’re the definition of dark comedy. I can picture myself running the prison yard at San Quentin much easier than facing a death sentence for triple murder. I’d be paying off the guards and framing my rival gang leader, even if I catch a shank once or twice or am sent to solitary confinement. I just hope it’s that simple.

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