Merete Mueller’s short film Blue Room is about as meditative and peaceful a look at life in prison as you’ll ever see. It’s also quietly disturbing. In the US, our prison system is designed to punish incarcerated people by separating them from the outside world. Perhaps most significantly for their mental health, they are kept separate from nature: trees, rivers, lakes, oceans, the night sky; things that can keep people happy, healthy, and well-balanced. After learning about a program that shows nature videos in prisons, Mueller went to film and observe:
Years ago, I read about an exploratory program that showed nature imagery to people in prison to improve their mental health. During allotted downtime and in high-stress situations, individuals could request to visit the “blue room” to watch nature videos. Prison administrators hoped that these sessions would offer alternatives for people who were struggling emotionally, many of whom often ended up in solitary confinement.
We believe in the power of relaxing and meditative videos around here and I’m glad people in these prisons are able to find some peace in the blue room, but videos are not the real world. If Blue Planet II is necessary for incarcerated people to maintain their sanity and tenuous connection to nature and the outside world, as a society we really need to rethink what this system is doing to people. A friend said it reminded her of the incredibly dystopian use of VR goggles on cows in order to produce more milk. In his 2009 New Yorker article, Atul Gawande said that long-term solitary confinement is torture — but maybe all imprisonment is torture in our deeply punitive system? (thx, caroline)