Many people think that serving a life sentence in jail is much better than the death sentence. This is probably true, seeing as you hold on to your life and you get to live to see your family every so often. But is it really better knowing that you have to spend your whole life confined to your jail cell and the prison where you will be kept? In a sense, it is a death sentence.
For many people, men in particular, a life sentence is one form of a literal death sentence because of the high violence and murder rate which is found in the prison itself. Men are murdered, wounded and sodomised on a daily basis by other inmates, and this can make a life sentence in prison a living hell.
Up until now there has never been a safe place in jails for criminals serving a life sentence. The California Department of Corrections created a rehabilitation programme for these prisoners who have to serve life sentences without the chance of being released on parole. HBO decided to produce a documentary called Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard A, which primarily focusses on the lives of 600 inmates participating in this rehabilitation programme.
The documentary aims its story line on California State Prison because this was where the concept of Yard A originated. A few years ago a young man named Edgar Gomez asked a warden whether it was possible for inmates serving life sentences to have their own area where they could be safe from those who conduct violence on a daily basis. Gomez himself was found guilty on a charge of second degree murder and he would be spending his whole life in the confines of a jail cell.
Needless to say, this warden created what is called Yard A, or the Honor Yard as the inmates call it. Here inmates can continue to serve their life sentences without having to worry about any brutal attacks from their fellow convicts.
In 2000 the California Department of Corrections transformed Yard A into the rehabilitation programme, better known as the Progressive Programming Facility. Even though this programme remains an experimental prison activity, it is totally free of any violence, alcohol or drug abuse, racial tensions, and gang activity.
The documentary turns its focus on how these 600 men seek to better themselves spiritually, mentally, and physically by engaging in activities such as art, music, religious services, and group activities. It primarily interviews inmates who had been sentence when they were still juveniles.
The Toe Tag Parole documentary has been produced and directed by Oscar and Emmy winners, Alan and Susan Raymond, and it portrays just how hard these inmates have to work in order to rehabilitate themselves without any chance of getting out alive. This isn’t a story about how people undergo rehabilitation in order to be released back into society, but rather of how men transform in order to find peace within themselves.