Dr Lee Salter made his documentary about prison, Injustice, in 2017. The film was based on his interactions with people on community service and then prisoners he encountered.
Conceiving of a Prison Documentary
Injustice was initially conceived as a series of articles telling the stories he heard from convicts. The project quickly evolved as Lee was invited by the ex-prisoner and reformer, Gethin Jones, to make a film about his project. Spending time with Gethin introduced him to a whole host of questions about the prison system.
Around the same time Lee befriended an ex-prisoner from Brighton and within minuntes they had agreed to tell Tommy’s story in all its complexity. Despite claims from people who’d not watched the film, Injustice makes no comment on victims but instead tells stories from the perspective of the prisoners themselves.
No filming was done inside – all of the footage inside prison was provided by prisoners themselves.
A chance meeting with a prison governor opened up a futher perspective – prison workers suffer the system too. Moving from source to souce it became very clear that the prison system isn’t in crisis, it IS a crisis.
A whirlwind tour of the UK to packed venues helped Injustice stimulate the debate about prisons. It helped connect campaigners, ex-prisoners and academics. What mattered most, however, was the reaction of those who’d been inside. Invariably it has been considered to be one of the most authentic prison documentaries around.
The other achievement of Injustice was to stimulate authoritarians to ban screenings across the UK, forcing it somewhat underground, but, ironically, also bringing welcome attention.
The other irony of course was that the media’s response to Injustice went some way to proving the findings of Dr Salter’s decade of media research, summarised in his documentary, The Fourth Estate.
Following up Injustice
The experience of making and screening Injustice was incredible. Helping prisoners and ex prisoners find a voice took place well beyond the film itself. Most screenings provided panels of prisoners to speak directly of their own experiences, and some of these led to other things.
One of the most pleasuable meetings was with Michael O’Brien, who had been locked up for a murder he didn’t commit. His friends got in touch with me and we made a surprise film, based around a tour of Shepton Mallet Prison.
It was a real pleasure to make the film with Michael, and give him the platform to tell his story. You can watch it below.
Another great pleasure was meeting Emma Hetherington at the Bath Spa University screening. As a criminology student and a Christian, she had a great passion for prison and prisoners, and was one of the rare people who really sticks by her principles.
After several social meet-ups, Emma offered a song, for which we made the following film. It became a sort of theme tune for the Injustice project.