The documentary ‘The House I Live In’ directed by Eugene Jarecki is an eye-opening look at America’s failed War on Drugs. In 1971, the term was coined by the Nixon Administration to ensure the 37th President’s reelection to office. What most people don’t realize is that Nixon initially started out funding large scale rehabilitation treatment to prisoners. He understood the prison system was a hopeless cycle without it. Unfortunately, the War on Drugs became a political sound bite and contributed to our draconian mandatory drug sentencing policies. In the last four decades, over 45 million addicts have been arrested (many nonviolent offenders), making our prison system become the world’s largest. It’s shocking and a wake-up call to America.
Jarecki has done his homework. This documentary is a well-researched work of journalism. He lays out a compelling argument allowing academics, physicians, convicts, judges, and cops to voice their opinions. One of the most powerful talking heads comes from the creator of ‘The Wire’ TV show David Simon. A former Baltimore Sun crime reporter, this guy knows the real deal. You cannot help but listen to his logical explanation why our drug-enforcement policies have been a costly failure. When other experts add their perspective, it makes this documentary a sobering reality check. Jarecki reveals that U.S. drug policies are not a war on drugs but a war based on class and race.
What makes this documentary a personal journey for Jarecki is the interview with his nanny. Jarecki’s father was a doctor and he grew up in an affluent white community far from the urban decay he examines in his film. Nannie Jeter was like a second mother to him. She was employed by his parents to care for him and his siblings. Jarecki fondly remembered playing with Nannie’s kids while growing up. It is poignant when Nannie talks about some of her family members that got caught up with drugs and have been in and out of the prison system. The reason why the film is titled, ‘The House I live in’ is that indirectly we are all responsible for the present state of affairs.
Jarecki lays out a compassionate case to rethink our approach to a complex problem. The United States treats addicts like criminals rather than individuals with health issues like most developed countries. One scholar presents historical documentation showing that opium and cocaine were widely legal in America in the 19th century. Back then, when whites became addicted to these substances, they were treated with care in a hospital setting. In California, white politicians made opium illegal to punish successful Chinese workers. Fast forward a century later to crack cocaine. Since it is mainly used in African American neighborhoods, mandatory sentencing is 100 times harsher than regular cocaine – the drug of choice for affluent whites.
Harvard professor Charles J.Ogletree points out that out of two million people serving prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes, more than half are African-American. The film also points out that prison has become big business for many small towns across the country that lost its manufacturing job base. There is a haunting scene at a convention showing off the latest gadgets prisons can use. Jarecki’s documentary shows a young drug dealer facing a lengthy mandatory minimum sentence then cuts to his father who is a former drug dealer himself. It is a sad moment in the film. Jarecki asks us what kind of society we want to live in since ultimately this is everyone’s problem.
This award-winning documentary is now available on iTunes and Amazon instant view. For more details, please visit FilmBuff http://www.filmbuff.com/movies/the-house-i-live-in/. Here is the link to the movie on iTunes http://bit.ly/ZcfEda.