The Zo

This post isn’t so much a blog of my original thoughts so much as a recommendation.

I recently came across an incredible series of videos produced by The Marshall Project entitled “The Zo.” The project is the result of Johns Hopkins’ student Patrick Doolittle’s senior thesis. Many movies, novels, and articles have tried to capture the way in which prison disorients and negatively impacts the mental health of inmates, but I have never seen one that captures the arbitrary and inhumane treatment so vividly.

Doolittle combed the American Prison Writing Archive and used prisoner’s own words to demonstrate the “disturbing struggle between prisoners and their captors, waged not with fists or weapons, but with deliberately disorienting rules and impossible tasks.” The Marshall Project then partnered with visual artist Michael Crabapple and actor Michael K. Williams (who famously portrayed Omar Little on The Wire) and created the 3 part series of short videos.

The combination of the prisoner’s own words with Crabapple’s stunning visuals truly brings home the constant imbalance, inconsistent application of rules, disruption of schedules, and other countless slights and degradations that prisoner’s constantly experience.

It is said that “the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members” (a quote often attributed to Gandhi, but more likely tracing its origin to former Vice President Hubert Humphrey). If you believe that, you owe it to yourself to watch this short series because prisoners are among our weakest and most vulnerable members and the way we currently treat them does not reflect well on who we are as a society.