For her highly-anticipated new documentary, “Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison,” Kristi Jacobson obtained incredible access to a Virginia “supermax” facility, designed to house the state’s most dangerous offenders. Nearly every inmate there is housed in a solitary cell for 23 hours a day.
Premiering on HBO on Monday, the movie was initially inspired by an article on solitary confinement in the New Yorker called “Hellhole,” which describes in vivid detail what happens to the mind when it is deprived of human contact. After reading it, Jacobson began researching supermax facilities around the country and discovered a reform program in Virginia that’s intended to prepare inmates in solitary confinement for their return to a general prison population and, eventually, society.
She contacted the director of the state’s Department of Corrections, Harold Clarke, who eventually granted her permission to film at the prison. After visiting the facility once without cameras, Jacobson returned with her small crew to film six more times over the course of a year.
“As an artist and a filmmaker, I wanted this film to be as immersive and experiential as possible, because it’s very difficult to convey the sounds, the smells, the feeling of being inside that prison, but everyone should have access to that,” said Jacobson, adding, “We wanted to tell the story and let people come to their own conclusions. I hope that people are moved by the film, and if they are moved by what they saw, to me that’s impact.”