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Filmmaker Gabriel London will also be joining us.

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest is a hybrid of documentary film and animation. The filmed chronicle Mark’s life – from his childhood through a modern day parole story – while the animation reveal the hyperactive world of his mind – from planning ingenious escapes to the sci-fi prison universe he inhabits.


Mark DeFriest’s life is living history. At age 19, his original sentence was for a nonviolent property crime, but because of additional punishment for escapes, he has spent his entire adult life behind bars. DeFriest has survived 31 years in prison, most of it in longterm solitary confinement in a custom cell above the electric chair at Florida State Prison. He has been raped, beaten, shot and basically left for dead, but he has somehow lived to tell the tale. When he was sent to prison in 1981, five out of six doctors declared that he was mentally incompetent to be sentenced. They warned the judges that Mark couldn’t learn better behavior and needed treatment. Instead, he was allowed to plead guilty, even at one point to a Life Sentence.


The documentary brings this story to life. True to the psychiatrists’ expectations,  Mark has amassed an astonishing number of disciplinary reports in prison for things like possession of escape paraphernalia, but also for behavioral violations like telling the guards his name was James Bond. “He’s a little bit crazy, a little bit manipulative, but not really a bad person”, as his former lawyer puts it. Apparently that point was lost on the system, as Mark has always been held with the worst of the worst. In a solitary cell, his talent for mechanics and escape turned inward, and what ensued was unexpected: art, letters, creativity.

Panel Discussion:

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The Honorable Mark L. Wolf was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts in 1985, served as its Chief Judge from 2006 through 2012, and is now a Senior Judge. He has previously served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States and Chair of the Committee of District Judges on the Judicial Conference, and on the Judicial Conference Committees onCriminal Law, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and Codes of Conduct.

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Professor Alan M. Dershowitz is Brooklyn native who has been called “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer” and one of its “most distinguished defenders of individual rights,” “the best-known criminal lawyer in the world,” “the top lawyer of last resort,” “America’s most public Jewish defender” and “Israel’s single most visible defender – the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.” He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.  Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg.


James Gilligan is a psychiatrist who has devoted much of his career to studying the causes and prevention of violence.  As a member of the faculty at the Harvard Medical School for more than 30 years, he directed the Institute of Law and Psychiatry and served as director of mental health services for the Massachusetts prisons and prison mental hospital.  For ten years he was the principal investigator of an intensive violence-prevention experiment in the jails of San Francisco which succeeded in bringing the level of in-house violence down to zero for a full year, and reduced the incidence of violent recidivism following discharge by 83%, compared with a matched “control group” in an ordinary jail.  He is currently a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and an Adjunct Professor in the School of Law at New York University.  He has published several books on the subject, including “Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic.” He has served as a consultant on these issues to President Clinton, Tony Blair, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Court’s Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, the World Economic Forum, and other leaders and institutions, and is currently an advisor to Mayor deBlasio’s administration concerning the epidemic of violence in the New York City jails on Rikers Island.

“Gabriel London isn’t one to back away from risks. He loves to push the boundaries and conquer unchartered territory.”

–Oliver MacMahon

“London utilizes animation from Thought Café to illustrate DeFriest’s wild tales, and Scoot McNairy provides the voice-over performance of DeFriest’s testimony and letters (based on his voice performance alone, McNairy would be a perfect DeFriest if this ever makes it to narrative feature film adaptation, which it is ripe for). This animation provides a hallucinatory visual experience, a window into some of the horrors that DeFriest has witnessed or been a victim of in his many years in prison.”

–Katie Walsh