America is the most punitive nation in the world, handing out historically harsh sentences that largely dispense with the concept of rehabilitation. Alan and Susan Raymond (Oscar® and Emmy® winners for HBO’s “I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School”) explore the reality of “the other death penalty” in TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A.
Featuring exclusive, unprecedented access, TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A was shot entirely at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, a maximum-security facility in the Mojave Desert.
In 2000, a California State Prison inmate serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) approached the warden to request a dedicated yard for men serving life sentences that would break the code of violence dominating prison life. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) subsequently transformed Yard A at California State Prison into The Progressive Programming Facility, which inmates call The Honor Yard. The only one of its kind in the United States, this experimental prison yard is free of violence, racial tensions, gang activity and illegal drug and alcohol use.
TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A focuses on the 600 men living at The Progressive Programming Facility, who seek self-improvement and spiritual growth through education, art and music therapy, religious services and participation in peer-group sessions.
Although a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found mandatory sentencing of juveniles to Life Without the Possibility of Parole unconstitutional, those previously convicted still have to serve their sentences in some states. The film features interviews with three of the inmates – sentenced to life at ages 14, 16 and 17 – who describe growing up within the prison walls.
Ken Hartman, who beat a man to death at age 19 while drunk, and has been in prison for 36 years, says, “There’s a progression that these things go through. People used to be stoned to death and then they were shot and then they were hung, they were electrocuted. Each step along the way always the argument is made that this is a better kind of death penalty. I’m sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole. It’s not better than the death sentence, because it is the death sentence.”
As the men of The Honor Yard say, “They will get out when they get their Toe Tag Parole,” meaning death by incarceration.
Alan and Susan Raymond’s other HBO and CINEMAX credits include “Journey into Dyslexia,” “Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card,” “How Do You Spell Murder?,” “Children in War” (Emmy® for Non-Fiction Prime-Time Programming), “I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School” (Best Documentary Feature Oscar®, as well as Emmy®, duPont and Peabody Awards), the Oscar® nominee “Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House,” “Into Madness” and “Elvis ‘56.”
TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A is a Video Vérité production; produced by Alan Raymond and Susan Raymond; written by Susan Raymond; cinematographer and editor, Alan Raymond. For HBO: supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.