I have seen a lot of prison films. Either the film focuses on the dark side of prisons – with no hope of making the offenders law-abiding in the future – or the prison is portrayed as a reformable „Rehabilitation Institution“, i.e., achieving new crime prevention via better therapies and better education or via stricter discipline. Modern, contemporary incarceration held an interest for me, however, for other reasons. I am interested in the emotional side – with the deep hidden pain and hatred, with all the sorrow that I sense underneath the surface and observe when I visit an inmate or read a verdict. I get similar feelings when I leave the confines of the prison and get in touch with the damaged and injured parties – the victims.
In BEYOND PUNISHMENT, I am interested in all these feelings and needs that modern judicial machinery and imprisonment do not have sufficient space for. Without a doubt, the penal system has to end the conflict to protect the general public and also to prevent vigilantism. The court, however, is unfortunately restricted from fully dealing with the conflict. By 1977, the renowned Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie had already coined the term „Conflict As Property“, i.e., the conflict is shifted away from the parties directly involved and into the justice system.
In the long run, this ‚disownership’ creates challenging preconditions for survivors of violent crime to rebuild their equanimity. I sensed during my research that both sides, victims and offenders, are extremely armored and that there exists very little belief that destructive fantasies and negative feelings could be replaced by some form of accurate perception of those on the other side.
Those suffering on the victim side remain emotionally tied to the past, still considering themselves powerless victims of tragic events and feeling that the state and courts have at times left them terribly alone. The other side stagnates as well. In the hermetic system of defense attorney, judge, public prosecutor, prison employees and forensic experts – in order to try to keep sentences as low as possible – offenders are frequently taught to simultaneously downplay their offense and yet to also appear remorseful.
In my opinion, in the majority of violent crimes, there is the possibility of having a helpful mutual victim/offender reconsideration of the fantasies, the emotions and the facts. I sought out such cases to be in BEYOND PUNISHMENT. In each of the three cases in the film, the people on both sides face a choice. Do they want to learn specifics about each other, possibly even personally meeting, in order to extricate themselves from the spiral of projections and assumptions toward the other side?
Or do they prefer to stay as they are, suffering in their roles as ‚victims’ and ‚perpetrators’ but also enthralled by notions of revenge, punishment and forgetting? Is knowledge and experience of the other side’s emotions actually a helpful tool? The subject of criminality ranks high in the public’s attention. It is regularly featured in news stories, influences political events and plays a fundamental role in entertainment media. We are, nonetheless, abstractly discussing how to react to crime. We rarely see crime as it is experienced: As a deep injury of real people caused by real people.