Review of The Mind of Mark DeFriest written and directed by Gabriel London
Anyone with any knowledge of our criminal justice system can tell you that it is unfair, unjust, and broken. The story of Mark DeFriest’s inhumane treatment at the hands of the Florida penal system proves it beyond any reasonable doubt. I can’t imagine any third-world country treating a human being any worse than what Mark has had to endure right here in America.
To fully understand what happened to Mark, you have to start with his childhood and his ill-treatment at the hands of his stepmother. Not only did she likely cause Mark to have brain damage through shaking baby syndrome, but she was a cold, unloving and mean spirited individual. She is also the person who ultimately led to his incarceration, for what she claimed was his stealing of his father’s tools after his death. So instead of trying to help Mark out of his predicament with probate court, she does nothing to prevent him from receiving a four year prison sentence. That four year sentence has stretched on to over thirty years. Mark is still in prison to this day.
How is that possible, you ask? This excellent film walks you through Mark’s many attempts at escape and his trumped up charges by prison staff that have perpetuated his life sentence. Had Mark had legal help at any step in the initial process, he likely would have never served a day in prison. If he had legal help after his incarceration, he likely would not be where he is today. When his current lawyer, who has represented him for two decades, goes before the parole board, he doesn’t demand his immediate release. Instead, he asks for a release a year or two in the future. What? If he were locked up in an Iran prison, we’d be demanding that Iran turn him over immediately. Not two years from now.
This film is a stark contrast from the last documentary I reviewed Shenandoah. Watch Shenandoah and then watch this film and then compare the two cases. In one, a person is murdered. There is no prison time for any of the perpetrators of the crime. And the other, a man takes his father’s tools after his death. He has been in prison for thirty years, twenty-seven of those years have been in solitary confinement.
The injustice on display in this film will make you angry at the people responsible. And there are many, from the judge who first sentenced him, to the prison staff, to the members of the parole board. There is one line in the film, spoken by a former prison warden, that describes the disconnect with the way our criminal justice system, specifically prisons are supposed to work as opposed to how they do work: (paraphrased) prisons are meant to be punishment for a crime, they are not meant to punish individuals once they are there.
The film makes use of animation to dramatize portions of Mark’s story that would have been cost prohibitive to do with live actors and sets. The animation along with the drab surroundings of the prison give the film an unpolished look, but the story outweighs any of those shortcomings. Learn more at www.defriest.com. I watched the film through Showtime On Demand. The film is available online.