Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dyeing To Change

What’s it like to have freedom? Most of us probably don’t even realize how precious it is to be able to wake up maybe a few minutes past our alarm clock in the morning, or to have the luxury of opening the fridge to see what we’re in the mood to eat, at that very moment. We can even make choices of where we want to go and who we want to see, but never really think twice about it.

For prisoners who are faced with many years ahead of them behind bars, or even life sentences, pleasures like this come far and few in between. Life drastically changes, and routine becomes necessary for survival.

In the BBC2 Scottish documentary Cutting Loose, directed by Finlay Pretsell and Adrian McDowall, there is another side to prison that one can actually say is rather uplifting. Showing a new perspective of rehabilitation, in some areas of Scotland, inmates do not have a mundane existence, they come into prison and find a purpose, and that involves cutting the hair of other inmates.

So here we have third time hairdressing champ Francis Duffy who is 33 years old. He’s a struggling heroin addict who has been in and out of jail since 13 years old. However, as much of a danger he is to society and himself, he is allowed to hold onto a pair of sharp scissors that in the right moment could be used to kill someone. He never does though, nor do any of the other inmates who are given razors, scissors and tools.

Excitement fills the air for the upcoming Scottish Prison Service Hairdressing Competition, which involves both male and female inmates showing off their hair-styling skills. For Francis, this would be his fourth win, but also his last competition before he gets out of jail.

As the film plays on, the audience follows a verbal diary of intense emotional feelings of inmates with a main focus of Francis’ life.

On one hand, it’s difficult to feel compassion for a criminal, especially when it involves something like murder of a loved one. We seek out justice and hope that these individuals are severely punished, in even the cruelest ways. Prison is not a walk in the park and for most that you would speak with, they have regrets.

On the contrary, some see their sentence as a way to gain wisdom and to help others heal from trauma and pain. Others even feel it is their way out of struggling through every day life. They are taken care of and given structure in a world of chaos. As Francis openly said that once he is out, he doesn’t even know how to do the simple things in life, like even pay bills. It was heart-breaking to watch because you could sense his sincerity and as much as you want him locked away, a part of you wants to see him thrive, just like the rest of the inmates.

Hair cutting, dyeing, highlighting, shaving and all the other aspects that go along with being a hairdresser somehow give an outlet for these prisoners, who really feel like they have nothing to live for, and do demonstrably terrible things to others because they are lashing out at the world, as well as themselves.

This documentary shows another side, dare I say, a human side, to those who we loathe most. They are still shackled when they are going from their prison cell to the hairdressing chair, yet everyone seems content and respectful of one another. Perhaps there is fear of what others are capable of doing but there is also some truth that being with the same people, day in and day out, you do gain respect for each other.

Overall, I thought the film was extremely thought-provoking, even though it was only half an hour long. The fate of some of the inmates seems promising, but for others, the safety blanket that this prison system holds is too scary to ever cut loose.