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Old July 2nd, 2008, 09:10 PM   #1
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Has anyone shot in a prison?

I am interviewing an inmate for an upcoming documentary. I have been granted access for the interview, but have been given no details about what I can and cannot bring in. Other than the obvious, leatherman tool, handgun, etc... does anyone have any experience that they can share about filming in this unique location.
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Old July 2nd, 2008, 09:30 PM   #2
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No two "correctional facilities" will be exactly alike. The best thing to do would be to contact them with a detailed list of what is (usually) in your kit. Ask them what is and is not permissible, and ask for a detailed description of the area in which you'll be recording. You'll be surprised at some of the things that they will not permit!

I used to be involved in prison ministry, and some were tighter than tight and others were almost frighteningly casual. The best rapport you can establish with the staff will serve you well.

Good luck!
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Old July 2nd, 2008, 11:55 PM   #3
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Thanks Frank - I will contact the unit supervisor.
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Old July 3rd, 2008, 01:26 AM   #4
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Be prepared to forward the authorities a list of your questions first and a copy of the uncut interview after. Have a release form ready for everyone involved as well. If your subject is on death row, don't wire them with a lav mic.

Locate the nearest bar and a straight line to it after you leave the prison too.

Cheers.
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Old July 3rd, 2008, 03:10 AM   #5
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Whatever you decide to take in, list on a piece of paper. Take as little kit as possible. You do need to have eyes everywhere. The monitor died, I turned round, and the mains cable had 'gone'. I took the one off the spare monitor, went back and did a few adjustments and the monitor died again - lead vanished yet again. The staff shrugged their shoulders, just a fair game for the prisoners. They will steal anything not secure, just for fun! Tools wise, I was allowed most of the usual stuff in the public areas - the visiting areas, but wasn't allowed to take them into the secure areas.

It was one of the most depressing shoots I have done - the atmosphere was oppressive and some of the inmates quite terrifying and intimidating. This was a UK prison, but one having the highest security rating.
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Old July 3rd, 2008, 07:15 AM   #6
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As others have said, check with the facility ahead of time to see what their rules and restrictions are.

I've shot numerous times in the largest WOMENS facility in the U.S. They had a specific set of guidlines, that included what NOT to wear. (Colors that either matched the guards uiforms, or the inmates clothes for instance.)

Expect to provide a detailed list of absolutely everything you take inside, down to the roll of tape, spare batteries, cables, filters etc.

You will be inspected going in, AND coming out. The list has to match.

An extra set of eyes is a good idea. If you're going into a male facility, then I suggest it be a male PA.

Understand that you will probably have to sign a release that says if you are taken hostage, the facility will not negotiate for your release.

It takes time to get in, and it take time to get out. Budget that time into your schedule.

Yeah, it's depressing.
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Old July 4th, 2008, 12:27 AM   #7
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Thanks for all your help guys - the facility I am going into is a minimum security unit, and has been described to me as more of an "old folks home" setting than I expected. They seem casual about this interview, but I have furnished them with a complete manifest of equipment and inquired about what they suggest that I and my DP wear. We are set to interview in the "contact visit" area. I have requested to be allowed to scout the location beforehand as I don't like surprises. The staff seems extremely cordial and seems willing to let me do what is necessary.
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Old July 13th, 2008, 03:50 PM   #8
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I work for the California Department of Corrections, and we have a listing of rules for visitors... things like no denim (jeans or shirts) no cell phones, etc... and informing about our policies once inside (like our no-hostage policy... eg... we will not trade an inmate's freedom for your release). I'd call the State Corrections Dept public information unit and ask for their policies. If it is a privately run minimum security unit, call the operator, though they will generally follow the State's rules if they house only one state's inmates.
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Old July 15th, 2008, 07:47 AM   #9
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I have shot in all the prisons in Hong Kong, besides the obvious things not to take in, a detailed equipment list, I can not stress that enough, should be given to the institution well in advance so that all equipment can be logged in and more importantly logged out. As others have said you should contact the institute well in advance to check other requirements like the bringing of food inside. Remember if you go out for a lunch break all your gear will have to go out with you and it will have to be checked out and re-checked back in.

In HK we are not allowed to identify any of the inmates so filming is very challenging.

But it is always nice to know that you can leave the prison at the end of the day.
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Old October 26th, 2008, 12:06 PM   #10
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One thing to think about

One of my professors was allowed to shoot scenes in a prison. It was not a documentary, they brought actors into an interview area. She said it was very noisy. She used some of that echo and noise for background sound, but that might be something to be aware of.
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Old October 26th, 2008, 12:16 PM   #11
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Excellent point Diane. In my job I often have to interview prison staff and sometimes inmates. Last week I conducted an inmate interview and the room for the interview was basically a small cement room that echoed like crazy. Fortunately for me I was not recording something important and the audio is mainly there as a backup for my use later privately. (It was just an audio recording.)

It might be a good idea to establish a relationship with the institutions "Public Information officer" or whoever would be your main contact and let them know you would prefer if possible to have a larger room or area where noise is less likely to be an issue. Generally my experience has been that they will do their best to accomodate you. If you wait til the last minute, do not expect custody staff to go out of their way for you in this regard. What you get will be what you get.
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