Blog Post

"Survivors Guide to Prison" is More Than a Film, It’s Also a Movement That Will Try to Change a Broken System

Anthony Papa

On February 21, I attended the New York City film opening of “The Survivor’s Guide to Prison” at the Landmark Theater in Manhattan.   

I was invited to attend by executive producer Jeffrey Deskovic, who, as a victim of the criminal justice system, was wrongly convicted and spent 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He started his own foundation that fights for the rights of those falsely accused.

It was no coincidence that Jeffrey got involved in this film project of Oscar nominated Matthew Cooke (Deliver us From Evil and How to Make Money Selling Drugs) who directed it. The film is executive produced by Susan Sarandon, produced by Steve DeVore, Adrian Greiner and a host of others. Afterward a panel discussion took place that examined the testimony of the film from prisoners, guards, cops, lawyers and reformers.

The film is described as sort of a guide of what will happen to you if you get arrested and then the process that follows. As someone that has been through the system after serving two 15 to life sentences for a first time non-violent drug crime, I can attest to the film's honesty in portraying the injustices it talks about.  

The film is centered on two cases involving the conviction of two men, Bruce Lisker and Reggie Cole, white and Black victims who were found to be innocent of the crimes they were charged with. The gripping testimony of their stories are narrated by an array of stars which include Susan Sarandon, Christina Arquette, Danny Trejo, Ice T, Chuck D, Quincy Jones, Danny Glover and Busta Rhymes.

I was impressed by the way the film quickly moved forward revealing the atrocities of the criminal justice system and the problems associated with what they describe as the punishment model and examines suggested rehabilitative programs to correct the current broken system. The “Survivor’s Guide to Prison” is well worth seeing if you want to see and feel how justice can sometimes take the wrong turn and thereby destroying not only people’s lives that they become prey to, but also those loved ones and family members of those that become falsely incarcerated. We learn from this film that prison does not stop at the walls that surround those incarcerated but also goes well beyond them reaching out and destroying entire communities.

Survivors Guide to Prison is described as more than a film, it’s also a movement that will try to change a broken system. According to Jeffrey Deskovic, “the film hopes to swing the pendulum on various legislation. We want prison reform, specifically prosecutorial reform and accountability on all levels of law enforcement including bail reform and mandatory sentencing, solitary confinement and restorative justice programs."

Their press release cites partners who include Gina Belafonte, co-director of sankofa.org, and Van Jones and #Cut50, which works to cut crime and incarceration in all 50 states by translating local needs into smart safety solutions. Also, their Dignity Campaign which aims to bring dignity back to incarcerated women. For example in many states pregnant women are forced to give birth in shackles and are often kept in solitary confinement during their pregnancy, endangering them and their baby. Alicia Keys is the main spokesperson on this campaign joined by Courtney Cox, Alyssa Milano, Chelsea Handler and Elizabeth Warren.

The film is set to be distributed widely all over the country and will be released in iTunes next week. For more information you can go to its website on Facebook and Twitter.

Watch the trailer below.

Anthony Papa is manager of media and artist relations.

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