On April 11, the Brandeis Equal Justice Initiative organized a movie screening of “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes,” followed by a discussion with two panelists in Golding Judaica. The programming was facilitated by BEJI co-directors Prof. Rosalind Kabrhel (LGLS) and Prof. David Sherman (ENG). 

The event centered around social justice related to the prison system, as well as general education on the realities of the carceral system. BEJI was established in 2019 and aims to open “educational pathways for those impacted by the criminal justice system and advances carceral studies at Brandeis.” 

In keeping with BEJI’s desire to educate on the criminal justice system, Sherman shared a slideshow of images from prisonmap.com, showing bird’s-eye views of various prisons across the United States before officially starting the event. Sherman described these images and then posed the question, “where is the carceral system?” After various contributions to this question, the room reached the conclusion that the prison system is everywhere in society.  

After this informal introduction to the event, Sherman began discussing the film. “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes,” produced and directed by Brett Story, is a documentary released in 2016 that explores how the carceral system in the U.S. impacts entire communities, even beyond the physical prison facilities. The movie follows different narratives and perspectives that all come together to make up the greater picture of how the carceral system affects every aspect of life. 

Sherman described the documentary as an “interesting documentary in its form . . . it’s fragmented.” Without much further introduction beyond informing the audience about the lack of one storyline or narrative, he started the film. 

The film ran approximately one hour and 30 minutes, and afterwards there was a 10 minute intermission before starting the discussion. 

After reconvening, Sherman introduced the two panelists. In discussion was Angela “Angie” Jefferson,  a motivational speaker who uses her experience with the prison system to raise awareness of its injustices. She has worked with the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, as well as being a part of the Partakers Empowerment Program

Joining Jefferson was Dawud Abdul Basir, who is also involved in the Partakers Empowerment Program. Abdul Basir shared that he spent 44 years in prison, which informed many of his contributions to the discussion.

Sherman began the discussion by asking for basic observations, takeaways, and scenes that stood out to people. From this question, participants in the event pulled on three main themes from the movie: power, money and justice. 

Jefferson started the conversation on money by referencing a scene in the movie that depicted families of incarcerated individuals waiting in line to see their loved ones. These families were required to pay fees, including approximately $7 for every call they made to their loved ones, which doesn’t include the money they had to spend to visit to see their incarcerated families. A woman in the film said: “‘So they’re making a killer off of people who have loved ones incarcerated.”’

As someone who served 31 years in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution-Framingham, Jefferson pulled on her own experiences to react to the reference of calling fees. She talked about her time in prison and how “everything in that prison was money,” and that the incarcerated “put a lot of money into this [carceral] system.” She drew strong parallels between the movie and her life, by telling the audience that to call her children, she would keep the money to pay for the fees on her phone. She used to call her children everyday and “100 dollars stayed on [her]” at all times, because it was cheaper for her to pay it than have her children, due to high fees. 

Furthering the conversation, Abdul Basir led the discussion in the direction of power dynamics. He said that he has seen “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” a few times and that he always thinks about how power hierarchies operate in the prison system. He said, “The first thing that came to mind was [the] United Nations.” He went on to elaborate on this statement by adding, “To me, that movie is all about power.” Abdul Basir talked about how the “power dynamics” in society places some at the top with all the power and others far below with no power. He said that the UN is an example of this, because a small number of countries control all the others. The prison system offers an example of this power imbalance, because the incarcerated are on the bottom rung in society, while those at the top are making money at the inmates’ expense. 

In response to these power dynamics, Abdul Basir expressed that we need equality, but he specifically defined equality when he said, “This world will not be just . . . until equality comes down to A equals B.” He emphasized that people can disagree, but they need to respect one another in order to create a just and equal society. 

Transitioning to Sherman’s request of scenes that stood out to the viewers, many participants commented on the documentary’s reference to female prisoners who were enlisted as firefighters to contain wildfires in California, highlighting  themes of money and the injustice of the prison system. In an interview with The Justice before the start of the discussion, Tasha Epstein ’25 referred to the constrictions of incarcerated firefighters by saying “that’s such bullshit,” and later commented in the discussion how they were most likely not paid for their work and couldn’t utilize their skills outside of the prison system. Jefferson responded by saying, "They probably didn’t [pay them] . . . 9 times out of 10.” 

Many of the students in attendance had been exposed to the carceral system, including Tasha Epstein and Ella Subramanian ’24. Despite their previous exposure to the topic, they both expressed shock at the injustices and dehumanization displayed in the film. In the same interview after the film, Epstein explained, “The system is supposed to work to . . . rehabilitate people,” but “it’s not even fair in the way it’s supposed to work.” Subramanian said, “there are so many things that are shocking about it [the system as portrayed in the movie],” in an interview with The Justice immediately after the post-film discussion. 

This expression of shock was also seen when the conversation turned to a story told in the film about a woman who was fined $175 for not having secured a trash can lid properly. As the woman was sharing her story, she began to tear up at the injustices she faced regarding the ticket, as well as her time in jail. Kabrhel said, “She told that story . . . in such a poignant way,” and expressed how stories like hers put humanity into the social activist work. Subramanian succinctly put it, "it's crazy she got arrested.” 

In response to the scene, Sherman said that no one knows where to start with dismantling the oppressive system, because “it’s the system too big to fail.” However, in an interview after the discussion, Jefferson said, “we still have a long way to go,” but “I really believe there’s power in numbers.” 

Abdul Basir further expressed that “you have to start taking an interest,” meaning people must become educated on the realities of the carceral system. In an interview with The Justice, he directly referred to students when he said, “It’s time for the students to ask the question: ‘Where’s my money going and why am I still getting a bad product?’” 

A large part of BEJI’s initiative is education based, which was achieved through the film as well as the discussion afterwards. While the end of the discussion didn’t lead to any concrete further steps, the event provided participants a lot to think about regarding the current state of the incarceration system in the U.S.  

— Editor’s Note: Justice editor Nemma Kalra ’26 is a Partakers Empowerment Program facilitator and did not contribute to or edit this article.