Published May 02, 2014The story of Florida prison inmate Mark DeFriest is one of resilience. Arrested at the age of 19 for stealing a set of tools allegedly willed to him by his dead father, DeFriest would rise through the ranks of the American penal system, from medium security to federal penitentiary, after attempting to break out of prison on 13 separate occasions. As impressive as his tales of big-house Houdini-ism are, it appears the American government isn't as amused.
Directed by Gabriel London (Youth Authority: California), The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest catches up with the notorious evasion expert over thirty years after his initial incarceration in an attempt to uncover the myriad atrocities afflicted upon DeFriest while being behind bars (including 27 years of solitary confinement).
Told primarily through a pair of one-on-one interviews with DeFriest, as well as conversations with some of his closest confidants, The Life and Mind paints DeFriest as a highly intelligent individual who shouldn't have been incarcerated for such a small violation.
Viewers will come for the harrowing tales of DeFriest's escapes (which includes, among other things, performing backflips over razor wire, spiking mental hospital attendants' coffees with blotter acid and creating handguns out of pretty much anything lying around), but will stay to learn the unsettling truth of just how unjust the American prison system can be to its non-violent offenders.
If there's one fault to The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, it's the use of hyper-stylized motion graphic animation to illustrate his diary entries and correspondences with those in his life. (One doesn't need to see sequences of DeFriest smoking pot in prison while listening to a radio plugged into his ass, let alone images of him being brutally raped minutes earlier.)
For his first feature-length documentary, London does a good job showing both sides of the criminal process. However, by being plagued with animated asides and narrative misdirection, at times the film seems a bit more interested in shock value than it should be. (Naked Edge Films)