SURVIVING AMERICA

Director & Co-Editor

Currently in post-production

(coming 2020)

This is an intimate and urgent story about life after prison, which I shot with my partner and DP, Daniel Fox, over six weeks during the fall of 2019 in rural Georgia. We got to know a dozen men living on the campus of a shuttered insane asylum. They were recently released from prison after serving 20-40 years. They now face life in the free world with very few resources or support for rehabilitation and reintegration.

Every week, 10,000 people are released from prison in the US. Within 5 years, 75% will end up reincarcerated. We quickly began to wonder what exactly society expects of them, and how we value their life both inside prison and out. It seems that as a society, we prefer to pretend they don’t exist at all. This film is a response to that. I believe that putting a face on these disturbing incarceration statistics is vital to generating conversations that leads to real transformation. We cannot disrupt the cycles of trauma that feed violence and abuse without being willing to see one another in context: people cause harm because they have experienced harm and do not have the tools to heal, grow, and rehabilitate. 

Many of theses survivors of the prison industrial complex revealed traumatic childhoods colored by abuse and addiction. As young men, they made choices that ultimately landed them in violent prisons and earned them the lifelong identity of convict. Through it all, they have never been offered counseling or real education. Now, ejected back into the world, they are free, but have almost no access to the resources that would help them rejoin society in a meaningful way.

Are we a culture that locks people up and throws away the key? Do we believe in atonement and redemption? If we choose to see people in prison as worthless and don’t care about their conditions once they go in, what happens once they come out? Do they remain worthless? And if so, what does that say about the rest of us? How much longer can the fabric of our society sustain this model of carceral punishment over rehabilitation? 

Our time with these guys was humbling and transformative. Documentary filmmaking asks you to fall in love with your subjects. It requires faith from all involved that the moment as it unfolds in front of the lens is perfect as it is. Yet at every turn, the world shows these men that they are trash, that they are not capable of rehabilitation, nor worthy of it. Their willingness to share their reality with us, and with all of you through our camera, was a radical act of trust.

© 2020 by Maura James McNamara