Prison Through Tomorrow's Eyes

Twenty-four students from San Diego State University ventured into a world that changed theirs forever. Over 1500 miles and five grueling days, they stepped into the seething desolation of the California prison system. Folsom, Quentin, Soledad, Salinas Valley--eight institutions in all--provided a blunt and unapologetic look at the brutal realities of life behind bars. They discovered a world unimaginable to most: clanging cellblocks, haunting execution chambers, explosive prison yards, inmate-crafted weaponry and other contraband, even inmate “hit” lists—graphic reminders of the immutable insanity and self-imposed wreckage of prison.

In a stream of riveting encounters with guards and inmates, they learned about life--and survival--in the belly of the beast. Across the landscape of prison granite and steel, they opened their eyes and minds to a world they had never seen, nor much cared about. They pondered, first hand, a centuries-old reliance on a failed strategy of mass incarceration, pursued at a cost of billions to a near-bankrupt California, largely oblivious to the promise of cheaper, more effective, and more humane alternatives.

By week’s end, they discovered an abiding humanity and compassion—even hope—in places where they had expected to find none. And they grew in ways they had never imagined.

  • Paul Sutton
    Doing Time; Doing Time: Ten Years Later
  • Paul Sutton
    Doing Time: Ten Years Later
  • Paul Sutton
    Doing Time; Doing Time: Ten Years Later
  • Lori Sutton
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    56 minutes 24 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 1, 2013
  • Production Budget:
    5,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Laughlin Int'l Film Festival
    Laughlin, Nv
    October 18, 2013
    Best US feature documentary
  • Cannes Independent Film Festival
    Cannes, FRANCE
    April 15, 2012
    European Premier
  • Canada International Film Festival
    Vancouver, BC
    April 20, 2012
  • Jersey Shore Film Festival
    Asbury Park, NJ
    September 9, 2011
    North American Premier
    Best Educational Documentary
  • Global Peace Film Festival
    Orlando, FL
    September 18, 2013
  • Phenom International Film Festival
    Shreveport, LA
    September 22, 2013
  • Intendence Film Festival
    Denver, CO
    June 15, 2013
  • Fallbrook International Film Festival
    Bonsall, CA
    April 19, 2013
  • Florida Arts & Entertainment Network
    Tampa Bay, FL
    December 17, 2011
    TV broadcast
  • Tampa Bay Independent Film Festival
    Tampa Bay, FL
    October 14, 2011
  • Temecula Valley International Film Festival
    Temecula, CA
    September 23, 2011
  • Los Angeles Reel Film Festival
    Los Angeles, CA
    July 18, 2011
    Honorable Mention
  • Other Venice Film Festival
    Venice, CA
    October 11, 2014
  • CINEFEST: Downbeach Film Festival
    Atlantic City
    November 26, 2014
Director Biography - Paul Sutton

Professor, Criminal Justice, San Diego State University
Ph.D., Criminal Justice, SUNY-Albany (1975)
Post-doctoral study, Stanford Univ., Center of Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences (1977)
M.A., Criminal Justice, SUNY-Albany (1971)
B.A., Political Science & History, University of Kansas (1970)

* Producer, Director, Writer, Editor. Prison Through Tomorrow's Eyes (56 min.; 2010) feature documentary chronicling life-changing experiences of 24 university students who come face-to-face with California's prison system in an intensive, weeklong immersion into the world behind bars.

* Co-producer. Doing Time: Ten Years Later (58 min.; 1991) Emmy-winning (2) feature documentary reprising life and conditions at the Penitentiary of New Mexico, site of the bloodiest riot in American prison history, ten years after the making of Doing Time.

* Executive Producer. Doing Time (59 min.; 1980) Emmy-winning (3) feature documentary about life behind bars; one of the first of the prison documentary genre. shot at the ill-fated Penitentiary of New Mexico, site of the bloodiest riot in American prison history.

Published numerous books, articles, and studies, and has lectured on prisons, prison conditions, and prison life in the U.S. He has appeared frequently in local, regional, and national print and broadcast media as an expert on a host of criminal justice issues, including crime, politics, police, courts, sentencing, and corrections. In the past 40 years, he has been in and out of more than 50 American prisons and jails roughly 1,000 times.

He is currently working on a series of individual documentary profiles about fascinating people who have have spent their lives working or doing time in prisons across America.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Having been in and out of prison a thousand times (literally), today, I find myself making documentaries to expose the realities of prison and working steadfastly to reform them. But that was never the plan. It has been a peculiar, and unlikely, journey--from researcher to professor of criminal justice to filmmaker.

My first prison was Attica. I was a special investigator for the McKay Commission appointed to investigate the 1971 Attica Riot. Then a graduate student in criminal justice at the SUNY-Albany, I discovered that many--perhaps most--inmates are not so different from the rest of us. It was then that I also discovered the power of film as both a story-telling and social-action medium. The written Attica Report won the eye of a few thousand. But films about that ill-fated prison moved millions. 

Back then, prisons were an idle curiosity for me. People locked up for years in cages? Not good, but not my bag. A lot more money to be made in law than in documentary filmmaking. And the idea of producing images more sophisticated than those of a Kodac Instamatic? Pure fantasy.

I became the first federal prison intern, in 1973, in Petersburg, Virginia (again, mostly out of curiosity). What I saw there shaped my views about incarceration and fueled my curiosity about the men and women behind bars. Those years also gave us the iconic prison heroes of "Cool Hand Luke," "Papillon," and "Brubaker" (whose real-life namesake I would later befriend). I was gripped by the inhumanity of prison and the its anthropomorphic tendency to destroy. Wilde had it right: "it is only what is good in man that wastes and withers there." 

Ph.D. in hand, a rookie Assistant Professor at UNM, I took my criminology class to the Penitentiary of New Mexico. Shortly thereafter, I partnered with an English professor and an independent filmmaker to produce the Emmy-winning "Doing Time" in 1980--one of the first real prison documentaries. Fatefully, just two months after that program premiered on PBS, that very prison--the site of our documentary--erupted in the bloodiest prison riot in American history. Ten years later, two of us returned to reprise the story in another documentary--Doing Time: Ten Years Later.

In the interim, I had joined the faculty at SDSU, where my students beseeched me to "take them to prison." That began the now nationally famous SDSU "PrisonTour"--a five-day, mind-bending adventure for 24 students into the bowels of California's prison system. Now, 30 years later, I have escorted more than 2,000 students on precisely 100 of these tours. They see the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all, in one of the most intense experiences of their lives: they go face-to-face with murderers, rapists, and drug addicts, and they talk to guards and wardens, about their world behind the walls. 
Recently, I was granted unprecedented access to have a documentary film crew chronicle these students’ life-changing adventure. It is the subject of my most recent, documentary, Prison Through Tomorrow's Eyes.