Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous
Seattle, Sheffield, BAMcinemaFest, Sarajevo, Melbourne
Folsom State Prison hosts an intensive men’s group therapy workshop.
McLeary and Aldous focuses on one of the two times a year when Folson’s program – nicknamed “the work” by the participating inmates – allows non-convicts to enter the prison to participate in a four-day intensive workshop alongside the prisoners. Three of these civilians are followed as they take part, guided by inmates who are seasoned program participants. One man recognizes that a couple of bad decisions could have led him to Folsom like has happened to so many of his friends, another recognizes he has never fully pursued his aspirations, and the third, who comes off as an arrogant jerk, is primarily attracted to participate in order to experience a sense of danger. Over the course of the often friction-filled workshop, each civilian – and several inmates – are coaxed to open up about formative experiences, many connected to issues with their fathers, and the emotional baggage they carry, while protected here in a safe space, with no surveillance or guards present. While they find the intense experience cathartic, it feels forced or performative at times, and the film’s verité approach doesn’t provide an opportunity to flesh out its subjects sufficiently to give the viewer a sense of how impactful this group therapy writ large really ultimately may be.