Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard AToe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard A

Interview With Alan and Susan Raymond

  • Can you tell me what brought you to this topic?

  • Susan Raymond: We've had a long career of doing criminal justice-related stories, starting with "The Police Tapes" in ?76. And then we did "Doing Time," an HBO film that was nominated for an Oscar, and "How Do You Spell Murder?" a Cinemax film. It came to our attention that the sentencing of people to life had increased almost 300 percent. It was a drastic increase: 1 in 9 prisoners are serving life, so we thought that would be something to look into. Then the question is: How do you do that? We thought we would go to the place that had the most men serving life and that turned out to be California. But getting into the yard was another story.

  • Can you explain the semantics of having a multiple life-sentence "plus three" or "plus five" as we saw with some of the prisoners?

  • Susan Raymond: That's exactly what we?re trying to address: How can you possibly do three life sentences? And then, when you die in prison, you still owe five them more years.

  • Speaking of Edgar, how does the Supreme Court ruling about juvenile sentencing work?

  • Alan Raymond: Until the Supreme Court outlawed it, this sentence of life without parole was given to kids as young as 14. It's essentially removing kids from juvenile court and trying them as adults. Fortunately, the Supreme Court outlawed it. Unfortunately, for those who were convicted, some states are not allowing them to appeal the sentence. California however is one that is.

  • At what point do the inmates gain access to Yard A?

  • Susan Raymond: They have to have three years of a clean record to apply, meaning no violations of any kind. Not all prisoners want to do this. Some want to stay in a gang, don't want to integrate. Lt. [Charles] Hughes told me this story: There was a prisoner that got into the yard who was assigned to murder someone. When he got to the yard and he realized it was, as they say, "mellow," he didn't do it and he stayed there.

    Not all prisoners realize what life can be in prison. They get caught up in all of the gang activities, the drugs, the violence. The type of prisoner who wants to go to Yard A is a man serving life who does not want to live the rest of his life in a high stress situation. When they get out there, they just want to hang out in the yard. But they have to attend these peer groups, several of them a week. And attendance is taken. What happens is they start talking to one another and start socializing. They become more comfortable in this group, which was a great opportunity for us as filmmakers to shoot.

  • You mentioned that this is no longer the only experimental facility?

  • Alan Raymond: It's no longer the only experimental facility in California. I talked to the associate warden, Mary Buechter, the other day and she told me that it's been instituted in three other prisons. But she qualified it by saying that they were smaller pilot programs. But that was why it was originally created -- because they hoped it would spread.