The Survivor’s Guide to Prison is a great example of how important rhetoric is in an effective argument. Make no mistake; this documentary primarily operates as an argument, one railing against the American corporatised, for-profit prison system and examining how it manifests and exaggerates the nation’s racist and classist foundations. Produced and narrated by Susan Sarandon, The Survivor’s Guide to Prison builds to a well-articulated conclusion that the idea of justice in the United States is fundamentally broken.
The film ultimately advocates for a radical notion of forgiveness; it offers the kind of argument that’s attuned to bleeding-heart liberals and lefties (like myself). So I’m impressed with the cleverness of how the film is framed – literally as a how-to guide for surviving a prison stay, told by the tough guy likes of Danny Trejo, Ice-T, Tom Morello and, uh, Macklemore. It’s an ingenious Trojan Horse of a film, skewering masculinity and building to segments on ‘Surviving Authoritarianism.’ It just might – fingers crossed – end up converting precisely the people who need to be converted.
While that’s probably wishful thinking – who’s going to search out a low-budget documentary in 2018? – it doesn’t hurt that it’s simultaneously entertaining, skilfully constructed …and deeply depressing.