Documentary review: No Easy Time directed by Will Woodward

With over 85,000 people currently locked up, Britain has the largest prison population in Western Europe. According to the UK’s Drug Policy Commission between a third and a half of new receptions into prison are estimated to be problem drug users.
Of these, the lucky ones get in to a “T.C.” – a unique therapeutic community run by prisoners to help with their drug addition. Prison officers are present to supervise, but the day to day regime tends to be more relaxed than other prisons and all the jobs and therapy are carried out by the prisoners themselves.
No Easy Time is a 30-minute documentary looking at the Therapeutic Community Unit in Channings Wood prison in Devon. The film focuses on three prisoners – 23-year old Tim, former football hooligan and heroin addict Carl, and Matt, who is about to leave prison.
The Prison Reform Trust recently released a report noting the children who ended up in custody are ‘doubly punished’ because they are far more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The three protagonists in No Easy Time conform closely to these findings, with Tim having been in and out of jail since he was thirteen after being brought up by a drug addict. Meanwhile, Matt explains that he grew up in care and has been taking drugs since he was eleven.
During one therapy session Tim is brutally told that the five children he has fathered are all getting on well without him and that he “isn’t needed”. After another tough session, Carl gives the film its title by admitting “Getting told about yourself, when you know it is 75 percent true or 100 percent, anybody’s going to feel uncomfortable… I wanted the world to gobble me up.”
Living in Torquay since his release, at the film’s close Matt fails a drug test and a return to prison looms. Other than this, no other evidence of the success or failure of therapeutic communities is provided. However, the real success story – and only something this reviewer fully comprehended on his second viewing – is the prisoners who give the group therapy. So focussed was I on the emotional struggles of the three main prisoners, that I missed those prisoners confidently leading the in-depth and honest discussions that confronted individuals about their past behaviour.
This confusion may be partly down to the film’s direction, which is perhaps a little unstructured and low on explanation at times. Yet Will Woodward has picked a fascinating and important subject that deserves more investigation. With their self-governing, deinstitutionalised philosophy and their peer review and collaborative approach, therapeutic communities offer a progressive alternative tothe rest of our heaving prison system. No Easy Time certainly shows the prisoners taking control of, and responsibility for, their own actions and lives. But whether therapeutic communities are actually more successful in reducing re-offending is something viewers will have to research themselves.
No Easy Time is showing at the Sheffield Doc/Fest on November 4 and November 6. For more information visit
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. [email protected].


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