Breaking the Cycle film

While in Norway, I visited this prison, Halden Fengsel, on July 4th where I met with Warden Are Hoidal and he showed me clips of this film.
Deputy Warden Jan R Strømnes recently emailed me that this was now available on Netflix here in the U.S. and below you will find a link to YouTube showing the full version.

While at Halden prison, I had the amazing opportunity to tour the entire facility and sat with Sam Tax, the musician in the recording studio, and staff member Rune Ulfeng to discuss prisons in both the United States and in Norway. It was such an uplifting and once in a lifetime experience I will always cherish. All of the people I encountered at Halden prison – staff and inmates alike- were positive and respectful, urging me to bring their ideas of incarceration here to the United States. I am striving to do just that through this research.

I have also spoken with Karianne Wolfer from North Dakota and her point of view on corrections is absolutely positive and inspiring. I wish her the best with her endeavors of continuing improvements to carceral facilities in North Dakota and to the rest of the country. I only hope that my research leads to improvements on the design of the facilities, though design is not the main issue. Respect is lacking and design cannot solve that problem. Pushing for humane facilities that bring a sense of normalcy in regards to how inmates live daily, abolishing solitary confinement, and providing areas that foster self improvement over pure punishment are proven to work, as shown in this film.

I believe everyone should watch this film whether involved with corrections or not.

Getting Inside

As you can see from this blog, I have successfully toured 9 prison facilities across Scandinavia. Attempting to do the same in the United States has been a struggle (which may soon change-so stay tuned!) due to security and privacy concerns. In the meantime, I seek out sources that tell what it is really like to be incarcerated from those that are currently living in a prison- NOT using TV and other media sources as truth (Orange is the New Black, etc.) This includes writing letters to inmates and this awesome podcast created by inmates Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams along with Bay Area artist Nigel Poor, out of San Quentin Prison called EarHustle.

One quote from Earlonne that really hit home for me when referring to the SHU (Security Housing Unit) or most commonly known as solitary confinement:

“Think about all the things you did from 1989-2014. Now imagine most of those things was in one room”

If you want to hear real, current stories from incarcerated men, I highly recommend listening to this first season of EarHustle. The second season is currently in production. If you have a question you’d like to ask, you can send a postcard and maybe they will answer it in their next season. I have been in contact with Nigel already and look forward to a written response from Earlonne.

Breakdown of the Research

The diagram below explains in the most basic sense the areas of inquiry for my research. I will begin with exploring how our prisons became so isolated from society. From there, the method is a zoom-in approach beginning with the birds eye view of location; where are prisons located and is this the best approach (rural vs. city, etc.) Arriving at the site of the prison, I examine the campus and the structures that make up the complex. From here, we begin to look at the building itself and the form it takes. Inside of the structure, I will examine the interior organization relating to programmatic needs that should be separated or adjacent and how the inmates use the space. The most specific area of investigation are the design elements required to fulfill human needs (operable windows for fresh air and sunlight!), especially considering these are spaces that the inmates are confined to for years on end.

Understanding Incarceration in the U.S.

In the time since my return from Scandinavia, I have continued my research into comparing the United States prisons to prisons around the world but first, I had to understand the system here in the United States. Jails, prisons, public, private-there are so many elements I needed to wrap my head around before I could make an educated comparison. Using the Federal Bureau of prisons website ( and the Bureau of Justice Statistics site (, I have created this diagram showing all of the different types of facilities we have here in the U.S. It is still a work in progress, as daily I find things to add and adjust on this diagram, but I believe I am on the right track.

As I continue to enhance this breakdown, I will also look into how other countries around the world break down their prisons systems; are there similar systems and how to others drastically differ from ours? The United States has the highest prison population in the world which may be why there is a need for such a system, but other countries such as China and Brazil also have very high inmate populations- are their systems similar or different?

It is difficult to compare the U.S. system to those of Scandinavia due to the drastic difference in not only total inmate population, but each of the Scandi countries is much smaller than the US; around 5 million per Scandi country when the U.S. is home to about 323 million people.