Vice News correspondent Kaj Larsen takes viewers inside California's Salinas Valley State Prison, one of the most notorious maximum security prisons in the nation. Home to several dangerous gangs, it is estimated that 700 assaults will occur this year alone, a number that viewers are told is actually an improvement over years past.
In a unique turn of expectations, it is revealed that Salinas is exploring progressive options to improve the rehabilitation expectations for prisoners. In an alternative approach to managing the gang violence within the prison, there is a new focus being put on practices of meditation and mindfulness.
However, outside of the peaceful atmosphere of the meditation sessions the reality of prison life continues uninterrupted. In a display of the ever-present gang violence that permeates the efforts to improve the mindset and behavior of the prisoners, air medics arrive to retrieve a freshly shanked prisoner.
The distinct power of the prison gangs is described as Larsen asks about the typical first day for a white guy like himself. It is explained that he would be asked for his paperwork by the gang leaders, and segregated into a group based on race. The organization and influence of the gangs is essentially equal to that of the prison administration.
Offering an example of a success story, Larsen speaks to a paroled ex-gang member who explains the "debriefing" process of extracting prisoners from their gangs and setting them on the path to rehabilitation, and his relief to be out of the system and away from prison life.
With the US prison system at maximum capacity the need to release prisoners is greater than ever, and prisons like Salinas are making efforts to reduce the risk to the public. The film addresses the issue of the sustainability of the American prison system – with only 5% of the world's population we are home to 20% of the world's prisoners – and explains that the efforts being made at Salinas are in the interest of rehabilitating violent prisoners for eventual reintroduction into the general community.