Lockdown, USA Movie Review

Though the draconian New York State Rockefeller Drug Laws were repealed in April after an over three decades long popular struggle against them, there is much damage left in their wake. Originally intended as a punitive antidote targeting the drug trade, the unfortunates caught in the crosshairs were mainly impoverished users of color detained with small amounts of drugs, and who could not afford the legal resources enjoyed by their primarily middle class white counterparts guilty of similar crimes.

The exemplary documentary Lockdown, USA is a tribute to the courage and determination of those who have fought the laws for so many years, and also the penalized and their destroyed families.

Directed by Michael Skolnik and Rebecca Chaiklin, and narrated by Ruby Dee, Lockdown, USA tracks the often frustrating years of efforts by pro-repeal organizations such as The Hip Hop Summit Action Network and NY Mothers Of The Disappeared, and individuals like hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons and comedian/activist Randy Credico to stand down indifferent politicians.


What emerges is a kind of socio-economic pyramid scheme to perpetuate the war on drugs and decades of long sentences for tens of thousands of mostly nonviolent, low level users, while certain sectors of society enrich themelves from the misery of the incarcerated. Including the legal defense system, and the network of privatized prisons and businesses who profit financially from their presence, in the sparsely populated areas of Upstate NY where the penal insitutions are located. Ironically of course, what is emerging now during the current economic crisis, is the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction, and the move to cut the costs of correctional facility maintenance by decreasing prison populations.

Equally devastating in Lockdown, USA is the damage to the families of these imprisoned drug users often enduring life sentences, though murderers and rapists locked up with them spend far less time behind bars. And while these families find themselves without breadwinners, the film also points out the grave reality of three million children of the incarcerated across America left without a parent.

When Simmons, who could simply forget about the problems of the world and just enjoy his immense wealth, is asked why he has devoted himself tirelessly to this cause, he simply replies: ‘I do what makes me sleep best.’

More information about obtaining Lockdown, USA on DVD, is online at: LockdownUSA.com.

DVD Features: Jim Jones Video; Featurettes: The DA And The Ex-Con; Russell’s Gospel; The Pink Shirt; The Kinora Diamond; The Hamptons; The Practice Of Yoga.

Article 19 Films


4 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.