Living in New York City, it seems that even in a sea of people, we are constantly stuck in our own world. But the term solitary seems impossible to New Yorkers. Especially myself. It’s unnatural. In NYC, I am constantly bombarded by other people zooming in and out of my life. Although we might not communicate directly, its still a necessary part of my day. I can’t imagine a life in solitary confinement.
Herman’s House follows the relationship between artist Jackie Sumell and Herman Wallace, a prisoner serving time in Louisiana in solitary confinement. He was serving a 25-year prison sentence for bank robbery when, whilst serving his time, he was accused of murdering a prison guard and banished to solitude in a 6-by-9 foot cell to await a longer sentence. When Jackie heard about Wallace’s situation, she reached out to him, and through correspondence a dialogue emerged that would challenge the current position on solitary confinement in the United States. Roughly 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement across US prisons.
The film revolves around an idea that emerged from a simple question asked by Jackie Sumell to Herman Wallace: What kind of house do you dream of after spending thirty years in prison?
Read our review below:
Look: Herman Wallace’s descriptive response to Jackie’s question prompted a wave of creative, artistic, and innovative ideas that would eventually inspire a campaign to shed light on the reality of solitary confinement. The documentary is beautifully filmed to capture the growing bond between Sumell and Wallace. In addition to Sumell’s personal interviews, there are several voice recordings of Wallace explaining his thoughts on the project and about life itself. His calm and collected voice pull on the heartstrings of the audience as you debate in your mind whether a man like Wallance deserves to endure this treatment in prison. Sumell serves as his eyes and ears in the real world as she goes on to pursue the possibility of constructing Wallace’s dream home. As they face obstacles, it is clear that this project becomes personal. Sumell is no longer helping a friend; she is helping her new family, Wallace and his family, to expose the truth and make a statement.
Themes: This film takes a deep, hard look on the prison system and breaks down the flaws in the philosophy of solitary confinement. What stood out was that Herman Wallace was a calm and collected individual who could present himself in such a way that moves audiences. It makes you question, what is a man like this doing in a prison? In addition to a critique of the prison system, the film explores the value of trust and honesty in society and the importance of family.
Verdict: If you don’t know too much about the prison system in the United States, see this film and become part of the revolution. It is a film that does not tell you to change. It does not demand that viewers see their point of view. In fact, its their failure to construct the plan that make the project more powerful. The film asks you to join them as they take an honest look at a man who is stuck with dreams that are far too big for his inhumane 6-by-9 foot cell and an artists struggle to release those dreams into the real world. This is a film worth seeing.
Herman’s House opened on April 19th for a limited engagements with Q&A from the director and other advocates against solitary confinement. Go here to see if there is a screening near you.
Below is an image taken from the film Herman’s House site on facts about solitary confinement:
Will you see Herman’s House after reading our review?