Survivors Guide to Prison

Synopsis: Following the stories of Bruce Lisker and Reggie Cole who spent year after year in prison for murders they didn't commit - audiences get a harrowing look at how barbaric the US justice system is. The film ultimately asks how we can survive the prison model at all, and looks at better solutions for conflict resolution, harm reduction, crime and more. Hosted by filmmaker Matthew Cooke and guest hosting representatives from the massive range of Americans joining forces to change this broken system.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Matthew Cooke
Production: Gravitas Ventures
Rotten Tomatoes:
102 min


Welcome to

the United States of America.

We call this

the land of the free,

but this country is home

to the largest prison population

in the world.

2.2 million Americans.

We put more people in cages

here than China,

Russia, than anywhere.

We have more people in prisons.

More than we have colleges

and universities.

1/3 of all incarcerated

females globally

are locked up here

in the United States.

13 million Americans

are arrested every year.

- Get your hands off the truck!

- I'm not doing anything.

Put that in perspective...

imagine all of Los Angeles

and all of New York combined

arrested every year.

There are countless heroes

in law enforcement

saving lives every day.

[female reporter]

Able to pull her limp bo...

But not a single state

in our union

- has use-of-force laws...

- I can't breathe!

that meet even the most basic

international standards...

[woman screams]

With record poverty,

drug use,

and countless nonviolent

social issues

left to our police officers

to solve with only three tools,

we have a national crisis

on our hands.

Of course,

we need dangerous people

removed from our communities.

But how many Americans

are really so dangerous...

He's arresting me.

that they need to be locked

in a cage?

I enrolled my girls

in my father's school district.

- They sent me to jail.

- [wailing]

They sent my father

to jail, too.

My father never came home.

The law enforcement apparatus

is deployed disproportionately

against people of color.

If you're a black man,

your crack is gonna get

300 times more than your...

We know reform

is desperately needed,

- but how do we reform...

- Can't record inside.

when prisons don't just

lock people up inside?

You don't want to tape me

with your telephone!

- Get it all!

- I'm a member of the press.

- They lock us out.

- Pack up and go.

Citizens, the media,

independent journalists

are all routinely barred

from recording or documenting

anything that's going on inside

our criminal justice system.

You're a chicken sh*t


We have to get all our

information and impressions

from corporate

commercially funded television.

[man] If you can't do the time,

don't do the cr...

These shows are filmed

and edited

under tight supervision.

They're not going

to prepare you

for the inhuman conditions,

the violence

and brutality

you're going to have to face.

You think because

you obey the law,

you have nothing

to worry about.

[Matthew] But recently,

the Wall Street Journal


we now have so many laws

on the books,

the average American

commits three felonies a day

- without even knowing it.

- He didn't do anything!

As an American, you're more

likely to go to prison here

than anywhere else in the world.

You need to know how

to handle

an out-of-control

police officer.

Yes, why am I gonna...


[Matthew] How to survive

an interrogation,

how to survive County jail

and an extreme prison sentence.

[woman wailing]

To take us through the steps...

we're going to follow

the stories of two Americans...

Bruce Lisker, an innocent man

convicted of murder,

and Reggie Cole,

another innocent man

who endured

an even more horrific nightmare.

We're going to get perspectives

from investigative journalists,

analysts, academics,

prison staff,

lawyers, cops, inmates.


So in the unfortunate case

that this may happen to you,

this is the survivor's guide

to prison.

They controlling you?

They got a hold on you

You need a man in a suit

to tell you what to do?

I'll grab the podium mic

and open the knife

We don't read

between the lines

Let alone the stripes

and the stars

Presidents get popped

in their cars

I ain't coppin' the drop,

real talk

[door clangs]

[Susan] As an American citizen,

you don't have to be

a murderer or a rapist

or a thief to be arrested.

You can call the police

in an emergency

and find yourself arrested

just because

the officer doesn't like you.

[man] My strongest memory

of my mom

is she was very into teaching

and sharing.

We loved each other.

I would've put my own life

on the line

to try to save my mom's

had I known

anything like this

was going to happen.

And it was a day just

like any other day.

I went over

to my parents' house.

Normally, when I went over,

my mom would come out

on the front porch to greet me.

And that day,

she didn't come to the door.

I was able to see her

on the floor,

and she had been stabbed

and beaten and left for dead.

- [woman screams]

- And I was just freaking out.

[voices over telephone]

I was hysterical,

and I was yelling and screaming

at the paramedics to hurry up

and get her to the hospital

so that the doctors could

do something to save her life.

And the police choke-holded me

and handcuffed me

and put me in the car

for my own safety, ostensibly.

You call the authorities

when something goes wrong.

I mean, you call for help,

and you put

your full faith in them.

I was telling the police,

"I want to go to the hospital

to be with my mom,"

screaming, crying, you know?

And he said, "No, we have to go

to Van Nuys Police Department."

[Susan] The detective

interrogated Bruce for two hours.

[Bruce] By the time he was done

interrogating me, she had died.

[softly] F***.

[sniffles, chuckles]


So what would you do?

Tell the cops whatever

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Matthew Cooke

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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