TOE TAG PAROLE - TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A captures the reality of America’s extreme sentencing policies at a California maximum-security prison.

America has literally become a nation behind bars with the world’s highest rate of imprisonment of 2.2 million inmates and a historic rise in life sentences. There are now 50,000 men, women and juveniles sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole who are all condemned to die in prison. Life Without the Possibility of Parole has become the other death penalty.

Faced with the largest population of men serving life sentences, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation developed an experimental program for lifers. In 2000, an inmate serving Life Without Parole approached the warden to create a dedicated yard for men serving life sentences that would break the code of violence that dominates prison life. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed and transformed Yard A into The Progressive Programming Facility that is free of violence, racial tensions, gang activity and illegal drug use. The men call it The Honor Yard.

With exclusive and unprecedented access, this cinema vrit film was shot entirely at The Progressive Programming Facility at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, a maximum-security facility located in the Mojave Desert. TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A focuses on the 600 men living on The Progressive Programming Facility who all seek self-improvement and spiritual growth through education, art and music therapy, religious services and participation in peer group sessions. The documentary also includes in-depth interviews with a number of inmates who are serving Life Without Parole (LWOP).

Kenneth Hartman, who at the age of 19, while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, beat a man to death in a fistfight 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.”

Assoc. Warden M.A. Buechter oversees The Progressive Programming Facility.

Read Ken's essay and watch a video clip of the interview.

A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found sentencing juveniles to Life Without the Possibility of Parole unconstitutional stating that it is cruel and unusual punishment. Following the ruling, states have been mixed over whether to apply the ruling retroactively. TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A features exclusive interviews with three prisoners on the Progressive Programming Facility who were sentenced to life at ages 14, 16 and 17 and describe growing up within the prison walls.

The United States is the only country in the world that condemns men, women and juveniles to die in prison. In contrast, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled Life Without Parole to be inhuman and degrading, stating that no prisoner should be deprived of any real hope of release.

What is the meaning of Life when it’s Life Without Parole?

Mural painting project on Yard A

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