NY TIMES: The “before” debates tend to get plenty of news coverage: some town in New England or the Midwest or wherever is torn apart over whether to allow a dump or power plant or mega-whatever to come in. Rarely, though, does the “after” get much attention. Once the project in question went forward, did the promised economic benefits accrue? Was the social fabric shredded?
“Prison Town, USA,” a smartly constructed documentary tonight on the PBS series “P.O.V.,” explores the “after” in Susanville, a small city in Northern California that a decade ago underwent a substantial makeover with the construction of three huge prisons. The hopes were that the complex would take the place of lumber and other major businesses that were fading. The fears were — well, myriad.
The film, made by Katie Galloway and Po Kutchins over two years, looks at the big-picture issues Susanville now confronts through a collage of small stories. There are no documentary-style talking heads or charts here, just some very ordinary-looking people trying to find their places in a changed community.
A man who has lost a good lumber job tries to make it through correctional-officer training. A recently discharged prisoner struggles to find work and support his wife and children. The owner of a local dairy tries to fight a state decision to cancel his prison contract, which he contends would violate a pledge that the prisons would buy locally whenever possible.The film is light on specifics, beyond the intriguing factoids interspersed in stark white-on-black lettering between scenes. (“Nearly half the adults in Susanville, California, work at one of the area’s three prisons.”) But the impact of the prisons is more subtle than numbers can capture. It’s in how neighborhood dynamics change when the population includes many women and children who have moved to Susanville while Dad does time. (Can the children of prison guards play with the children of inmates?) It’s in how domestic life is affected by the militarylike training a corrections officer goes through