More people are imprisoned in the United States at this present moment than at any other time or place in history, yet prisons themselves have never felt further away or more out of sight. In this clip from The Prison in Twelve Landscapes by Brett Story, hear the story of an inmate who was sent to fight California’s raging wildfires. 

A cinematic journey through a series of seemingly ordinary American landscapes, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes excavates the hidden world of the modern prison system and explores lives outside the gates affected by prisons—from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires to a Bronx warehouse with goods destined for the state correctional system, to a rural Kentucky mining town that now depends on the local penitentiary for jobs. Watch these clips, and watch the full film on Independent Lens on your PBS station.

“How Prison Taught This Man How to Play Chess”

When Nahshon Thomas was incarcerated in the 1980s, he didn’t know much about chess. But he met a guy who told him that he would never beat him at the game. He didn’t like to hear that, but he decided to learn from him. Now that he’s out, he teaches chess and plays for money in New York’s Washington Square Park. “If you see any black man out here hustlin’, tryin’ to sell something,” Thomas says, “he’s been to jail.”

“What Kind of Care Package Can You Send to a Loved One in Prison—That Won’t Get Thrown Away?”

When Chris Barrett’s brother was imprisoned, Barrett wanted to send him a package. But when the package of sneakers, clothes, and food finally made it to the prison, many of the items were not approved, and prison officials threw them in the garbage. That’s why Barrett started his business, which helps family and friends send approved items to their loved ones behind bars.