How To Prepare For Prison

Fuelled by fear, regret, defiance and redemption, How To Prepare For Prison follows the story of three people facing prison for the first time. Shot over three years, the feature goes behind the scenes and into the offices of lawyers and judges — and into the private homes of ordinary citizens caught in the crosshairs of the law.

By exploring fundamental questions of fairness and justice, the film challenges simplistic notions of crime and punishment. It forces us to consider the purpose of incarceration — are we seeking justice or deterrents or revenge? And makes one wonder what would we do their position? And maybe think for a moment “but there for the grace of God…”

Joe and his wife Luana live in the blue-collar city of Windsor, Ontario. Joe is a 45-year-old father of three. He works as a contractor. His wife Luana is a grade-school teacher. In 90 days, he could be locked up in a maximum-security prison alongside murderers and rapists.

His crime? Police found marijuana plants in a warehouse that Joe rents – an illegal crop valued at more than $570,000. Joe claims the drugs belonged to two men from Toronto to whom he sub-leased warehouse space.

Now Joe sits in his lawyer’s office, pulling nervously at his shirt collar. In exactly sixty minutes, his fate will be decided. That’s when the judge will determine if he’s guilty or not. Ever at his side, Luana puts on a brave face. “You never know Joe. You never know…”

In Calgary, Alberta, 29-year-old Courtney sits down with her prison consultant Lee. She breaks down as she tells him she has just pled guilty to defrauding almost a million dollars from her former employer.

Lee listens patiently. He walks her through what will likely happen over the next few months as she waits for her sentencing hearing. She expects to get as much as five years in a federal penitentiary. As a former convict, her consultant is no stranger to her situation. “The not knowing is hard. But once you’re sentenced and start your prison time then you’ll have an end date. Then you’ll know when this nightmare will be over.”

Courtney shouldn’t be in this situation at all. She was brought up in a prominent Calgary family. She had a promising career as a financial advisor and money manager. But then she did something to change all that…

Demario was on top of the world. Having overcome poverty, racism, an absent father, and constant bullying because he was “different”, he had finally made it to college on a scholarship – his dream. Living in residence at Wayne State in downtown Detroit, Michigan and taking classes in English literature he had big ambitions. But in his second month of campus life, his struggle to be accepted as a transgendered young black man took a darker turn.

After being harassed by a group of students for how he was dressed, he got into a fight with two girls who entered his dorm room uninvited. After some back and forth shoving, he ended up with his hands around one of the girls' throats. By the time campus police arrived there was no physical evidence of an assault but for the word of the victim and the accused.

Demario was taken into custody and charged with a felony – assault with strangulation. The charge against him, if convicted, has a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Though the chances of him getting that as a first time offender were slim, the number sticks in Demario’s head and he obsesses with how he could survive in prison for that long.

Joe, Courtney, and Demario are not career criminals or individuals “known to police” – they’re regular folk facing a situation that is completely foreign, seemingly all-powerful and terrifying.

Their stories are told within a climate of tough-on-crime and an unprecedented expansion of prison beds, all in the name of victim’s rights and safer streets, even though the crime rate is actually at it’s lowest since 1973.

More prisoners certainly means more costs. But, what is less tangible, immediate and visible are the social and moral costs of locking up more people for longer. These costs are born not only by inmates, but also by their wives, husbands, children, and communities.

How To Prepare For Prison documents the high-stakes, dramatic stories of families as they prepare for possible prison.

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