By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
I wrote an introduction for this, full of wit and Ryan Gosling jokes, then did some fact-checking and realized that I had confused documentarian Eugene Jarecki (this film, Why We Fight) with documentarian Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans). Bet that never happens.
Okay, I’m ashamed
The House I Live In focuses on the U.S.’s “War on Drugs” and all of the separate ways it’s been a crushing failure, skewing the lives of everyone from the dime bag dealer on the street to the prison guards that end up overseeing them.
Jarecki sticks with what he knows best, though, framing this film in a personal sense by showing how the “War on Drugs” affected his own family, in particular the family of Nannie Jeter, the African American woman who helped raise him, possibly to the detriment of the development of her own son, who ended up a victim of drugs. This is just the jumping off point, as Jarecki devoted more than five years of his life to researching the role of drugs and “drug prevention” in our society, interviewing a cross-section of the affected from petty drug dealers to academics to prison guards to Federal Judges to David Fucking Chase.
That’s his legal middle name
I’m not going to pretend like I can speak with any authority on this issue, but Jarecki assembles a compelling, veritable mountain of arguments against the continuation of “Drug War” initiatives. You probably know that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rates in the First World due to its Draconian Mandatory Sentencing laws on drug cases, which way, way disproportionately affect African Americans, but did you know that it’s due to an insane 100 to 1 difference in sentencing for cocaine and crack, which is also made of cocaine if you’re keeping track at home (although this has recently been “reduced” to 18:1)? Or that at the turn of the century cocaine, marijuana, and opium (essentially heroin) were all legally obtainable, but were all made illegal at least partially due to the fear of rising ethnic groups (Hispanic, African American, and Chinese respectively)?
Even if you did, things like how much easier drug busts are skewing promotions and creating unhealthy bonus-chasing policework in precincts across the nation, or how Richard Nixon was actually progressive in his attitude towards drug rehabilitation vs. incarceration before sacrificing that on the political altar may surprise you.
Well, up until that last part, probably
There’s a bit of a lack of a contrary opinion outside of sound bites, although to be fair Jarecki finds authority figures who you’d expect to be pro-Drug War, like judges, cops, and prison guards, and even they think it’s awful or at best useless. Also, watching one prisoner in particular nonchalantly talk about murder kinda works better as an argument for incarceration.
The sheer amount of information presented and the meticulous, all-encompassing way in which it is gathered make The House I Live In both a one-stop shop for this issue, and a slam-dunk argument for change. It opened my eyes.
Take a Drink: for every instance of drug abuse (then think hard about what drinking to this means.
Take a Drink: every time we see an arrest
Take a Drink: every time a U.S. President talks
Do a Shot: whenever a drug deal goes down