USA: the première of “O.G.,” the film made inside an Indiana Prison

The film “O.G.,” set and shot in a prison in Indiana, using inmates and guards as cast and crew, had its première on Friday night, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

I visited the production for six days, in 2016, for a piece that ran in The New Yorker a few months ago. That was the first extended time I’d ever spent on a movie set, or inside a prison, for that matter, so I found it hard, seeing the finished film the other night, to take stock of it in the way one usually might. I was too mesmerized by this encounter, on screen, with so many of the inmates I’d met (and developed a fondness for) and with the place itself—Pendleton Correctional Facility, a maximum-security state penitentiary outside Indianapolis, which is, in its way, as vivid a character in “O.G.” as the submarine was in “Das Boot.” Nonetheless, I feel I can reliably state that the performances are exceptionally strong, both by the free-to-leave professional actors (especially Jeffrey Wright, who plays Louis, the “O.G.” of the title, an older inmate on the verge of release) and by the incarcerated neophytes.

Madeleine Sackler, the director, invited relatives of a few prisoners who appear in the film to attend the première. One of these was Talishia Collier, the mother of Theothus Carter, Jr., whose father, Theothus Carter, is serving a sixty-five-year sentence at Pendleton for armed burglary and attempted murder. In “O.G.,” Carter plays the role of Beecher, a young agitator and an acolyte of sorts to Louis. Among the inmates, he has the biggest role. He amazed the filmmakers with his aptitude and devotion. His experience on the film was a highlight of his life, he told me, second only to the existence of his son.

But, just two weeks after shooting wrapped, in the summer of 2016, Theothus, Jr., the son, was shot and killed at a gas station in Indianapolis. He was sixteen. The murder remains unsolved. His father, meanwhile, soon ran into trouble at the prison, and has spent the past year and a half in and out of the solitary-housing unit, also known as the shu or the hole. (As such, he often was deprived of telephone or in-person contact with anyone outside the prison. To fact-check the material pertaining to him in my story, we had to communicate with him by mail.)

I met up with Collier before the screening. She and a half-dozen other family members had flown in that afternoon and were waiting by the red carpet. The production was putting them up for a night at a Hilton near Times Square. She had on peach-colored stretch pants, a sheer black blouse, and a black leather jacket. She said she still talks to Carter regularly. “But he’s in the hole now. Ever since he played a role in this movie, they’ve been messing with him, seems like for no reason.” It’s hard to know why this would be the case, but the prison’s social economy is pretty inscrutable to the likes of me. (As it happens, I received a letter from Carter this week, handwritten in neat script on official Pendleton stationery and dated April 10th. “I’ve been in Segregation since Aug 25th 2017. I’ve been on phone restriction, kiosk restriction and commissary restriction for 5 months so I haven’t heard my family voices since November 11th 2017.” It went on, “They’ve been punishing me every step of the way because of my participation in this movie.” Even so, he wrote, he would do it all again.)

Collier lives in East Indianapolis. Before her son was killed, she had been working as an intake specialist at a community center, but she hasn’t been back since. She says she needs medical clearance to return, but her doctor won’t grant it. “I have all these dreams of my son, where we’re laughing and playing,” she said. “The doctor, he thinks I’m just hallucinating.” She told me that her grandmother died in February and her cousin was shot and killed in March.

But I’m hanging in there.

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