PBS Independent Lens shows us ‘The House I Live In,’ an indictment of America’s ‘war on drugs’

REVIEW By ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

How to tune in “The House I Live In”: The national debut of this new documentary by Eugene Jarecki (who earlier gave us the provocative Why We Fight) is Monday April 8, 2013. Dates and times vary on PBS stations. PBS’s Independent Lens website provides film clips and links to search for TV listings in your area.)

Our review …

PBS brings us an eye-popping look at our nation’s disastrous War on Drugs in a nearly two-hour documentary called, The House I Live In. You may ask: Given that drug crimes are everywhere we look in movies and TV series, these days, why watch even more television about the problem? The answer: Because a growing number of religious leaders and human rights activists are questioning the U.S. policy on throwing huge numbers of people into prison for nonviolent drug offenses—especially when a disproportionate number of those people are African-American.

The House I Live In is a superb choice for discussion groups and for anyone concerned about these issues. The documentary is packed with interviews at all levels of American law enforcement: We meet convicted felons; we meet cops and judges who lock them away; we meet officials in Washington D.C; we meet parents and children affected by this system.

Together, these stories underline the startling facts that filmmaker Eugene Jarecki wants to hammer home. We know that these are his core messages because he occasionally pauses the movie to print these findings on the screen, including:

  • Since 1971, the War on Drugs has cost over $1 trillion and resulted in more than 45 million arrests. During that time, illegal drug use has remained unchanged.
  • With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States holds 25 percent of its prisoners. Over 500,000 are incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes.
  • Today, 2.7 million children in America have a parent behind bars. These children are more likely to be incarcerated during their lifetime than other children.

At several points in the documentary, we hear from David Simon, the journalist who now is famous for writing the award-winning TV series about the war on drugs, The Wire. He tells viewers, in part: We are the jailing-est country on the planet! Beyond Saudi Arabia, China and Russia! Nobody jails their population at the rate that we do—and yet drugs are purer than every before, they are more available, there are younger and younger kids who are willing to sell them. It would be one thing if it were draconian and it worked; but it’s draconian and it doesn’t work.

So, contact friends, invite your small group, or simply view this film to open your own thinking on these issues!

Originally posted at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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  1. rev pj says

    I have long seen the correlation between everyday depression and drug use for escapism, especially among our young. The need is to change the lifestyle for individuals so that drugs are not such a draw, or the only answer that is available. Our money could be better used for creating mental health care, and providing means for people to make lives that are worth enjoying. There are too many areas that mental health care can affect other than drugs that are contributing to our societal breakdowns.