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Up the Ridge to Screen in Virgin Islands

Up the Ridge Screens in the Virgin Islands

Article by Genevieve Ryan

 This article appeared the Virgin Islands Daily News on 11/19/08

The conditions at a Virginia facility where 130 prisoners from the
Virgin Islands are housed will be brought to light in a film
presentation this weekend on St. Thomas.

The Virgin Islands Prison Project will host a screening of "Up the
," a documentary about prisoners living in the isolated Wallens
Ridge detention facility in rural Wise County, Va. The film will be
shown at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Arian's Restaurant in Sub Base.
Admission is free.

Produced by Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby, "Up the Ridge" is a
one-hour television documentary that examines the quality of life at
the rural Appalachian prison where inmates from Virginia, the U.S.
Virgin Islands, Connecticut, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., are
housed under a state-run beds for hire program.

Wallens Ridge is one of two super-maximum security prisons built to
mitigate the economic struggles of the coal-mining industry in
Appalachia. The prison houses prisoners from urban communities.

Just after the prison opened in April 1999, reports of cultural
tensions and human rights violations surfaced. Filmmakers Szuberla and
Kirby were volunteering at that time as DJs for the Appalachians' only
hip-hop radio program in Whitesburg, Ky., when they started to receive
hundreds of letters from inmates who had been transferred to Wallens
Ridge. The letters told of human rights violations and racial tension
between inmates and staff, some of whom had changed careers from coal
miners to prison guards to escape the shrinking coal economy.

The documentary, which takes an in-depth look at the
prison industry's impact on the community and the political agendas
involved in the construction of Wallens Ridge, is Szuberla and Kirby's
response to the letters.

The V.I. Prison Project helps those in prison and their families
stay in contact by providing information on things such as how to set
up a phone to be able to receive collect calls from the prisons.

"We started the project in response to a need that happens when
people are incarcerated for both the prisoners and their families …
and the need became magnified in September when a large group of
prisoners were moved into the stateside facilities," V.I. Prison
Project co-founder Kim Lyons said.

The V.I. Prison Project currently has seven members helping inmates and their families, Lyons said.

"This documentary is important for all Virgin Islanders to see so we
can get a sense of where our tax dollars are sending people. A lot of
times we don't think about this unless directly affected by it, but it
affects all of us in the V.I., and the issue warrants a larger
discussion than we've had to date," said Lyons.

Lyons will be facilitating a discussion following the presentation of the film.

The documentary will be shown on St. Croix in December, and plans are in the works to show it on St. John.

For information, call 514-1422 or
e-mail viprisonproject@gmail.com.

For information on the documentary, visit www.appalshop.org.