The Work




An insight into rehabilitation in prison, but even more a film about the power of therapy.

The Work


In 1951 a film was made entitled Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. I didn't see it, but I can say with certainty that what it depicted as going on there was nothing like what we see now in this new movie set in the same area. In any case what we have here is not a film drama, even though it may sometimes seem like one. This is for real, since The Work, described as a film by the McLeary Brothers, is a documentary that reveals a truth that will appear to some as stranger than fiction. It concerns a programme that is carried on week by week, a support group in which experienced facilitators help those inmates ready to take part in therapy. These sessions enable the men to confront their anxieties and the often hidden sources of their deepest fears. Twice a year outsiders with an interest in doing so are allowed to come in and join the group for an intensive four-day session and one such occasion is what we witness in this memorable film.


These sessions were first undertaken in 1997 on the initiative of a now deceased inmate, one Patrick Nolan, to whose memory The Work is dedicated. The film’s co-director Gethin Aldous was brought in during 2015 when the filming project had already been conceived, but the man who originated it, Jairus McLeary, whose brothers Eon and Miles joined him as producers, had been involved for much longer. His father had experienced violence on Chicago's Southside and it was he who encouraged Jairus, as somebody who had already participated in psychotherapy, to visit Folsom Prison. He first did so in 2003. It would take years to win the approval and trust of all concerned and to be allowed to film one of the four-day sessions with the men involved agreeing to be shown participating and The Work is the result. It is remarkable.


Those like myself unfamiliar with what this kind of therapy can do will be amazed to witness close up what appear to be the authentic results of this work, breakthroughs that can unleash emotions long kept deep in check and thus change people's lives. Whether or not the responses could be quite so dramatic outside America I don't know, for what we see here smacks of an emotional quality that feels distinctively American. To my eyes it seems astonishing, and it is the revelation of it in the first half of this film that carries the most weight. In any case the film is assembled with skill and for many the material will be so novel that The Work will register as one of the year's most unforgettable documentaries. The amount of drama it contains far exceeds that found in most fictional works and the approach of the filmmakers is as apt and committed as one could wish, being neither sentimental nor sensationalist. Watching this film is an extraordinary experience.




Featuring  Brian Nazarof, Charles Tate Jr, Chris Renton.


Dir Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous, Pro Alice Henty, Eon McLeary, Jairus McLeary, Miles McLeary and Angela Sostre, Ph Arturo Santamaria, Ed Amy Foote.


Blanket Fort Media-Dogwoof.
89 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 8 September 2017. Cert. 15.