Volume 92, Issue 71

Wednesday, February 3, 1999


View behind bars

Fiddlin' through history

Tuck overcrowds master

Academy Awards need to get in shape

View behind bars

Photo by Kurt Hendry
YOU CAN'T PUT PEOPLE IN JAIL FOR PUFFY SHIRTS. TV Ontario's documentary The View From Here profiles Canada's penal system, with its first segment "High Risk Offender" tonight.

By Chris Simmons

Gazette Writer

Tracing the path from prison through parole to the game of survival in everyday society, The View From Here offers a look at the Canadian penal system to an audience who, out of their civil obedience or lack of curiosity, might not otherwise experience this institution.

The documentary is realistic, well shot and the viewer can effectively relate to the plight of the offenders.

The first episode, airing tonight on TVOntario, deals with this view from the present day dungeons and is titled "High Risk Offenders." The show follows a very simple format – recording parole proceedings with a minimum of narration.

The presence of the camera is concealed, giving the show a sense of objectivity and ably pulling the viewer into the emotionally charged narrative. This objectivity also gives insight into the subjective views of the officers, who sit before the anticipating convicts who await their judgement.

Watching the convicts proceed through each segment of the parole process demonstrates the parole board's perception. In the face of absolute mistrustful, belligerent officers, the ex-convicts act like children whose fingers have been caught in the cookie jar. Treating the ex-con as society's enemy leaves little room for them to be anything else. In contrast, the firm, yet sympathetic approach is not perfect, but its willingness to speak and listen brings out a self-responsible and assertive posture in the ex-con.

But which stance will the viewer choose? To take a sympathetic perspective requires listening to what drove these men to crime. There is no criminal instinct which determines people as born criminals, instead each of the men followed their criminal past as one element of their troubles, including monetary dilemmas, sexual problems, addictions and other issues.

For instance, the show focuses on Steve Bartlett who, after spending a life in prison cannot help but feel worthless. Punishment by exclusion leaves Bartlett with a criminal identity, as he has not known any other life. The documentary succeeds by refraining from judgement – leaving the verdict the jurisdiction of the audience.

We watch as a35-year-old man experiences the fear of simply asking a woman to coffee after having spent the majority of his life in an all male prison. Bartlett states he cannot get over feeling flawed and the viewer is informed his self-hatred eventually leads to a suicide attempt.

The show's format gives the viewer freedom to reflect upon society's paranoia of the criminal. In the name of blatant paranoia we continue to intensify the regulation of our lives for fear of these criminals who seem to threaten us. "High Risk Offender" allows the viewer to pause to recognize the motivations and limitations of the repeat offender and understand the psychology of this neglected demographic.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999