The student organization Human Rights Through Education hosted a showing on Wednesday of “The Mind of Mark DeFriest,” a documentary that follows a prison escape artist, along with a Q&A session with the movie’s director.

The film will appear on Showtime in March and won the Best Documentary Feature award at the Lone Star Film Festival.

In the film, DeFriest, a current inmate at a Californian prison, was originally incarcerated for theft, a four-year sentence, in 1981. However, due to frequent escape attempts, his sentence was increased.

Now with 34 years in prison behind him, 27 of which were spent locked in solitary, DeFriest has a chance at obtaining parole thanks to the film, whereas before he would have likely stayed in prison until his death.

In an interview, Gabriel London, the film’s director, said he thought the film built up momentum around the case.

“The film itself catalyzed a lot, and the audience catalyzed a lot, too,” London said. “When the film was released, his parole date was 2085, and now I think there’s a very real possibility he’s going to get out of prison.”

He said he first heard of DeFriest while working on another prison documentary. Noticing he was one nonviolent offender among many violent offenders locked in solitary confinement, he found the letters DeFriest had written while in prison, and began tracking his story.

London said his focus with the documentary was on examining how individuals arrive in the criminal justice system.

“We imprison very freely,” London said. “The federal system, for example, the majority of its prisoners are nonviolent.”

Throughout the film, the motives of DeFriest’s escape attempts remain unclear. Some psychologists interviewed for the documentary labeled him as psychotic, but others determined him mentally competent.

In particular, the film showed the ways in which several practices led to a personality clash between DeFriest and the prison system; namely, solitary confinement. Additionally, London said he also wasn’t sure DeFriest was aware of the possibility of parole.

DeFriest was first put in solitary confinement while undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, according to the film. During his subsequent time in solitary confinement in several prisons, London said DeFriest was denied clothing, and was also accosted with water from a hose. The film also points to torture and gang rape DeFriest underwent at the hands of other prisoners.

Theater and Drama Prof. Ashley Lucas, director of the University’s Prison Creative Arts Project, also joined London for the Q&A, answering questions about a slightly different issue — the role of creativity in prison.

Prisons are boring, she said.

During his incarceration, DeFriest made keys, painted, carved soap and wrote poetry, among other activities.

Law Prof. Samuel Gross, editor of the Law School’s National Registry of Exonerations, also spoke before the film screening about the topic of exoneration. He said the attention DeFriest’s case has garnered from the documentary is the exception when it comes to similar cases.

“Most of the cases get very little attention,” he said.

LSA freshman Sabrina Zayec, who attended the screening, said her initial reaction was disappointment in the justice system.

“You see a lot of these problems and reports done in third-world countries and Guantanamo Bay but you don’t see the abuse that was reported in the Florida State Prison,” Zayec said.

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