The Work (2017) Film

“Nearly 20 years ago, an unconventional program started inside Folsom Prison: Some of Californias most hardened convicts invite members of the public to join them (in the prison) in intensive group therapy sessions” 

Haunting music accompanies the start of this documentary.  Outside the gates of the prison we see the pensive uncertain public volunteers arriving to go inside the prison being told “you are being watched right now”.  Interspersed with prison yard images of inmates in light blue prison uniform and white vests:  razor wire fences and closing steel gates, set against the bright blue Californian sky and the  prison security towers, vulnerability has no place here.  Gang and racial divisions still exist, to be emotional is weakness, and long since forgotten father wounds abound. 

We follow the 4 day  personal journey of each member of the public and several of the black, white, Hispanic, native american, bearded, bandana wearing inmates.  Several small therapy groups go on at the same time within the grey breeze block walls of a large undecorated prison room.   Heavy on seamlessly blended leader facilitation (these are prisoners who may sometimes be unpredictable), as well as peer facilitation,  we follow one group as one by one each man succumbs to his emotions and shows his vulnerability.  We see men who are brave enough to get in touch with their feelings, their emotional wounds, sometimes easily, sometimes through gritted teeth.  Daring to descend inwards and down to their most painful least visited places whilst being facilitated and held by the circle of fellow men, this is  deeply moving and thought provoking throughout.

“Right where your wound, your hurt is…..right alongside that you can find your gold”.   This isn’t a trained white middle class educated listener, but an incarcerated murderer uttering these words.

This is intense,  demanding viewing…….as I watch I realise the wider world is waking up to the possibility that unprocessed feelings may be behind much of the acting out behaviour of men that can be so damaging to societies, to their relationships with others and to themselves.

Ok, a confession, this type of work is close to  my heart……..but 90 minutes later I feel like I’ve been on retreat myself, my outer world receding as I too am put firmly in my own moment of aliveness, in touch with my body,  my emotions, my own “Work”, and the richness, beauty and power of men helping each other to get in touch with their true selves.