America ReFramed

In An Ideal World

Season 04  Episode 13

Over seven years, with unprecedented access, IN AN IDEAL WORLD followed three men in California’s infamous Soledad prison - John Piccirillo, a white separatist murderer, Sam Lewis, a black ex-­gang member and Ben Curry, a warden. Each entered the system young and learned its codes of conduct not only to maintain order and safety, but also for their personal survival.

John, Sam and the warden have established a certain level of power and influence in this deeply entrenched and racially divided prison culture. “For us it’s power. The courts have taken away our freedom. The administration takes away our movement, so what do we do?” remarks John, a towering shot-­caller whose control depends on racial segregation.

Sam was a Blood in Los Angeles when sentenced to “15 to life” for a gang-­related murder. After nearly two decades behind bars, Sam concedes, “I was a man by no measure at 18.” Having spent nearly two decades in prison, Sam is now a model prisoner. Meanwhile, the warden reflects, “My perspectives on inmates have changed over the years…you gotta ask yourself what could this person have been had they made a different decision? We as a society should ask ourselves too; what have we missed?”

Challenged for the first time by a mixed-­‐race program, and with pressure from the courts to integrate, John, Sam and the warden struggle to move beyond the stark realities of America’s prison system.