This past week, I had the opportunity to interview Adrian Grenier, the producer for the upcoming documentary “A Survivor’s Guide To Prison”.
The film, which left me with chills, chronicles the stories of those wrongfully convicted and the struggles they faced and continue to face due to their time spent in prison. Featuring the stories of not only the survivors but also a wide array of public figures who care deeply about this issue, the film is extremely insightful in its narrative. While truly pushing the audience to understand the full spectrum of our judicial system, the film also ultimately calls for prison reform. A Survivor’s Guide to Prison will leave any viewer wanting to do more which makes it a truly impactful film that all should watch. During my conversation with Grenier, I was able to learn so much more about the film as well as the message it so eloquently intends to spread.
The Knockturnal: What drew you to produce a film like this?
Adrian Grenier: I’ve been working with Matthew Cooke now for a long time and this is the third film we’ve done together. You know, Matthew is such a unique storyteller and has such an important perspective on the criminal justice system. I’ve learned a lot from his passion on the topic. And, I’ve always wanted to support him as a friend, as a brother, but more importantly as a unique voice in a world that really does need to cut through the complacency with regards to how we treat crime and punishment.
The Knockturnal: What were some of the difficulties you faced making this film? Since this film does cover a very controversial topic, did you receive any pushback in making the film or did you find that anything needed to be cut out? Was there anything we didn’t get to see?
Adrian Grenier: We’re not in the business of pulling punches or hiding from any realities. I think it’s quite the opposite. We want to speak plainly and directly. I think a lot of time people are afraid to speak the truth to power and we wanted to make sure that were being as accurate and honest as possible while at the same time speaking in a language that people are used to. So, instead of newsifying it or making it somehow sort of whitewashed and with this pretend authority, we wanted to just speak like people do and how they might in the real world. And, that’s why you have a cast of characters who aren’t afraid to speak their mind and speak plainly. And of course, the people that have been to prison are the ones that are the most earnest and candid.
The Knockturnal: The film features a very diverse voice throughout the film, which was very instrumental in my opinion. For example, the film featured a grandma, a veteran, and people of all colors, so how did you hear about some of the cases featured in the film? And, why did you decided to include these specific cases within the film?
Adrian Grenier: I think the perspective of the film really does come from a place of deep concern. Where, you know, being in a country where you’re more likely to go to prison than anywhere else in the world indicates that it’s not just criminals that are getting locked up. There’s almost 100,000 supposed cases of wrongfully convicted people in prison for something they didn’t do. And, then you go a little bit further and it’s not just about something they didn’t do but it’s about the nature of the laws that criminalize them in the first place and whether or not those laws appropriately are finding the people that deserve that kind of cruel or unusual punishment. And, a lot of the time people go to jail for small offenses, nonviolent offenses, and end up getting thrust into a world of abuse and violence which only creates a worse situation. So, it’s very important to really show the spectrum of people affected which is disproportionately African American and minorities, but it’s not just them. It’s also people who are women and also white.
The Knockturnal: What was your main goal for this film? What did you hope to achieve through this film?
Adrian Grenier: I think the takeaway ultimately is the purpose, which is that we need to seek prison reform. And, I think really as human beings, look outside of ourselves, our own anxieties, and cut through the fear we have of the other. And, instead of feeling like we want to throw people in cages in really brutal conditions as a way in which to make ourselves feel less anxious, to really find humane and more productive constructive ways of dealing with people who may have done something that needs to be addressed. So for us, it’s about finding restorative justice, principles in terms of finding healing, and giving to people who have potentially criminal tendencies; to give them the opportunities to be better citizens, to become more productive human beings. And, that’s not just a criminal issue–it’s a poverty issue, it’s a health and wellness, mental health issue, it’s a whole other host of things rather than just making everything about somebody did something wrong and they need to be abused and punished in order to fix them because the truth is that kind of mentality only creates divisions between communities, it breaks families apart, and it doesn’t work. So, all of the investments that we make as a society, financially in a broken system, is a waste of money because if there’s a 70+ recidivism rate where an astronomical number of prisoners released end up reoffending and going back to prison, then we’re not actually getting our ROI, reform and reintegrating prisoners to be healthy members of society if that’s what is supposed to be.
The Knockturnal: Who is the intended audience? Who did you hope to reach out to with this film?
Adrian Grenier: Well, I think it’s certainly the people who think that they’re innocent and that they’re safe from a system that is as backwards and actively destructive as our so-called justice system. Nobody is safe. When we start indiscriminately throwing people in jail and brutalizing them then over time that is not just a travesty and injustice for that individual, we all suffer for it. All of society suffers for it. So, the audience is for those who rest, in the sense, a place of safety because nobody is safe if we have increasingly more Draconian laws and militarized police and a prison system that is designed to make people billions and trillions of dollars and that is the kind of cancer that will grow and then suddenly you’re gonna find yourself either locked up or at least society generally will degrade to the point that we have people committing more and more acts of violence just to survive.
The Knockturnal: The film features a lot celebrity voices which I believe was extremely beneficial for supporting this cause. But, what was the intention behind using such public figures throughout the film?
Adrian Grenier: Well these are all people who have accomplished a lot of their lives, but all of them who have either personal stories or are motivated for their own human reasons to speak out and communicate about this topic. And, I think it’s a testament to all of the contributors that they were willing to make a public stand. I think it’s easy to stay silent and to avoid conflict when you have an increasingly militarized government that is always looking to point the finger and find criminals and smoke them out of their homes and throw them out of their homes, and throw them in jail, or deport them, or what have you. And it’s important that people who are in a place of privilege use their opportunity to speak out and communicate even if it risks maybe being targeted or you know having to face some backlash. And that’s people of privilege, i.e celebrities and people who have accomplished a certain status in society but it’s also white privilege and people who are naturally predisposed to have opportunities that most people don’t. And, when you have those opportunities, it is incumbent upon you to make sure that if there is any injustice that you seek it and do what you can because again, injustice has a way of growing like a cancer, and then next thing you know they come after you and you privilege may dwindle quite quickly.
The Knockturnal: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share or highlight?
Adrian Grenier: Well, yeah, I mean of course I’m always being as socially active as possible, I work in a lot of environmental stuff. Just recently in a New Zealand safety video where we highlight the climate scientists that they support down in Antarctica where they’re doing scientific research projects around climate change and the effects of changing climate on Antarctica and, of course, the rest of the world. So always look out for that, I’m very committed to do whatever I can to help people and the planet.
The film is now playing.
You can check out the trailer for the film below!