Press Kit | Dark Little Secret


2011, Documentary Film, 35min

“urban nu-sense”/GRIMFAM Filmworks

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The Great Incarcerator, part 1: Dark Little Secret examines the United States prison system and its unprecedented explosion in population and the exploitation of dark, poor faces, intentionally relegated to second-class citizenship otherwise known as continued, legal slavery.

About the Director:

Derrick (aka D Jones) was born and raised in Youngstown, OH and is a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a BAC and MA in Theatre and Ohio University with an MFA in Film. His experiences in the arts are quite diverse having worked in theater, film and hip hop music for many years as well as publishing four books of poetry. He received the 2008 I. Hollis Parry/Ann Parry Billman Fine Arts Award through the Ohio University College of Fine Arts the 2008 Graduate Documentary Film Scholarship recipient from The Princess Grace Foundation-USA. With a focus on documentary filmmaking, his previous short film 631 (2008) has screened across the country at several film festivals as well as the Short Film Corner at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. In 2011 it made its television debut on PBS and can now be seen on the PBS website, click here to view. In 2012, it was selected for “We Speak, Here” the Culture Unplugged online film festival. D Jones was the Assistant Director of the Arts Village Living Learning Community and an Instructor in the Department of Theatre and Film at Bowling Green State University in Ohio before moving to Boulder, Colorado to work at Naropa University.

Director’s Statement:

I began this project originally as a film about the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville and the inmates on death row for their alleged roles in the riot, one of the longest in U.S. history. As their story unfolded, it became clear the amount of information about the prison system in general that needed to be communicated before one can be expected to have a true understanding of what inmates are up against in prison and society and why they might be moved to rebellion. Rarely exposed are the racial and class issues associated with crime and punishment, so much so that it affects out society’s understanding of the “abolition” of slavery and the concept of paying a “debt to society.”

The importance of this film lies in its willingness to confront problems within our system as opposed to embracing it as the solution to many of our social problems. Reality paints a more terrifying picture. Reality suggests a system that targets specific individuals and uses them in a way that it doesn’t use everybody else. Reality also suggests this film will not change the system itself. Instead my goal is to keep the prison system on our radar and in our conversation. The recent execution of Troy Davis in Georgia has increased the call for serious changes to be made in the way we do business as a nation when it comes to the ultimate punishment we enact upon our citizens. I firmly believe the more we discuss mass incarceration and its impact on our communities, the closer we will get to finding ways to holding ourselves and one another accountable while considering our humanity.


Slavery; It is the economic foundation of the United States of America. History tells us that slavery in the U.S. was a brutal system of dehumanization, abolished by the 13th Amendment. History also tells us of a period where the U.S. openly, legally and illegally, kept former slaves and their descendants locked into a second-class citizenship under the guise of “all men are created equal.”

This conflicted past is often presented as what the United States used to be, an example of where we came from but never evidence of where we are today. This is further complicated by the reality of our nation’s first black president standing before us as “proof” that we have not only overcome racial divisions, but also eradicated the oppression against people of color that has marked our past.

Dark Little Secret confronts the present from a different perspective, suggesting slavery, this country’s “original sin,” still exists legally, as clear as the 13th Amendment itself: “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction…”

The United States is the great incarcerator.  The film presents the U.S. prison population as something we don’t talk about, or even have to think about, in our society. The U.S. houses 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s known prison population. 1 out of 100 or 2.5 million adults are behind bars, and over 5 million on probation or parole. This incarceration rate is unprecedented in world history, supported and perpetuated by our laws and attitudes about prison and prisoners, and despite inmates costing the taxpayer almost twice as much per year as students…none of this being accidental.

The intentional design of our prison system is explored through commentary from those who have studied our prison system academically and through the experience of serving time.

The Way We See It:  Fence. Barbed wire. Towers of concrete and steel, and people deemed the “worst of the worst” in our society. “Some people need to be in prison for the public good.” A woman on television believes convicts are good for one thing: “shark bait….”

The Inmate Image: Dr. Michelle Brown, author of the book, Culture of Punishment, explains our societal view of prison and prisoners is shaped largely by their presentation in media. Media traditionally gives information while competing to draw the audience in. The framing, the soundtrack, the tears of the witness, the 10 guards in riot gear subduing an unruly inmate…all images readily used to incite emotion and reaction from the onlooker, and to send a direct message-all inmates are criminals, all criminals are bad, and all hail the people who protect us from them. Many of Dr. Brown’s students believe they know about prisons because they’ve seen CSI and The Shawshank Redemption. Shows like The Sopranos romanticize illegal activity with white faces, while news media paints a different picture of real-life “criminals,” and the faces are often quite dark.

Politics as Usual:  Former inmate and social activist Mansfield Frazier suggests a common political strategy is “using fear to win votes.”  A “tough on crime” stance feeds this fear. In a campaign ad for Mississippi Lt. Governor, candidate Phil Bryant says “…If crystal meth and crack dealers don’t learn their lesson the first time, they should go to jail for life. That’s my policy.” Beneath his words, music hums low and dramatic. He wins with 58% of the vote.

Out of Darkness:  Dr. Brown asserts we can tell a lot about the U.S. prison system by looking at who is incarcerated. Black and brown men grip the bars of their cells, fill the tables and lunch lines in the cafeteria and walk through prisons under the watchful eye of white guards. Blacks make up 12% of the U.S. general population and 40% of the U.S. prison population…do these disparities make sense?

The 13th Amendment:  Dr. Angela Davis, prison abolitionist, reveals, “The hauntings of slavery are nowhere as evident as they are in the prison system.” Michelle Alexander, J.D., author of The New Jim Crow, explains the dire importance of the phrase “except for punishment for a crime” in our constitution, as this phrase allows for slavery to legally exist today. Empty steel mills and factories illustrate the deindustrialization of our country, creating a group of people (dark/poor) who are “seen as disposable” in the U.S. economy. Dr. Davis blames our society’s encouragement of “historical amnesia” for our overall ignorance to the reality that slavery has yet to be fully abolished.

The Problem is the Blacks: President Nixon not only says this, but wants a system devised to address this “problem,” while not appearing to.  The Green Party’s 2008 presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, states: “If 70% of drug abusers are white and 70% of those incarcerated for drugs are black, we have a problem.” The war on drugs is examined as a war on the dark and poor through a montage of political pander and real life experience. Drug use, particularly that of marijuana, is not so uncommon…President Barack Obama himself admits he “…inhaled. Frequently. That was the point.” So, why a 127% increase of convictions in California for marijuana distribution or use over the last 30 years?

Belly of the Beast: Inside prison walls, inmates are stacked in three level bunk beds in large rooms. The sight resembles the cargo on a slave ship. Unlike the visibility of racism in slavery and Jim Crow, the racism and slavery of the prison is invisible.

Debt to Society: Release date. The road is lined with men carrying garbage bags full of their possessions. Formerly incarcerated felons recount their personal challenges with re-entry into society after doing their time. The professional characters introduce the concept of collateral sanctions, laws which effectively discriminate against felons after they’ve been released, limiting their access to employment, housing, and in some cases, the vote. It is no wonder a majority of those formerly incarcerated return to prison, our country touting the highest recidivism rates in history, disproving the notion of “rehabilitation and correction.”

Redemption Song:  Reform? A prison is a prison. It does exactly what it is designed to do. Dr. Brown maintains a reformed prison would end up looking more like, “a university…a job…it’s not going to be a prison.” The current economic downturn has helped the idea of prison reform gain traction, but Michelle Alexander suggests the “…lack of care for the basic humanity of those who are targeted for incarceration will allow this caste system to continue…” Based on this lack of care, even if the system changes something will take its place, just as Jim Crow replaced slavery, and mass incarceration replaced Jim Crow…there will simply be a new Dark Little Secret.

Project History:

Dark Little Secret was originally developed as Derrick’s MFA thesis project. Intended to be a feature length film about the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising and the inmates on death row as a result of the incident, the project evolved into a 3-part short film series called The Great Incarcerator. The series focuses on three distinct aspects of the United States prison System and how it impacts our society. Part 2, The Shadow of Lucasville, explores uprisings, activism and human rights issues in the U.S. prison system. The Shadow of Lucasville is currently in production and scheduled for a December 2012 release. Part 3 takes an in depth look at the filmmaker’s hometown, Youngstown, OH and its shift from the steel industry to the prison industry and its impact on the community. Dark Little Secret is currently being shown by the director in individually booked screenings after appearing in a number of film festivals.

Commentators and Additional Crew:

CommentaryMichelle AlexanderKunta KenyattaDr. Michelle Brown

Cynthia McKinney

Dr. Angela Davis


Mansfield Frazier

Niki Schwartz, Esq.

Saadiqah Hasan

Sen. Nina Turner

Judge Daniel Hogan

Alvin Valentine


Director/ProducerD Jones CinematographyBen Powers

Luke Ostoswski

D Jones

Marcus Harrison

Khaled Tabbara

EditorJared Skagen MusicTeresa Lotz

Ryan Schwartzhoff


Graphic Design

Zha Linling


Intended Audience:

Prison touches all of us in ways we can’t fathom. From the cost of building and running these institutions, which taxpayers foot most of, to the impact being imprisoned has on inmates, their families and the communities around them…even right down to our support of corporations which profit vastly from the continued use of inmates to manufacture, package and sell their goods…all in the U.S. have a relation to this $40 BILLION dollar industry, known as the Prison Industrial Complex, whether we are aware of it or not. Dark Little Secret is geared towards communities that rely heavily on the prison industry both in jobs and crime control, like Youngstown, OH. However, the film should also reach people who form their views about the prison system and inmates based on media and their socialization, as opposed to firsthand experience or knowledge. Finally, college and university students make up a large demographic of our target population; many of these students come from communities that do not experience direct contact with the prison system. They are future leaders, set in an environment designed to challenge their points of view, providing them the means to make changes that will better our society for future generations.

It is optimal to screen this film in a large group setting, including room for a discussion session to process, analyze, and even challenge the content of the film. In classroom settings, incorporation of faculty/staff members who work in law or criminal justice to lend an academic point of view ensures the most productive outcome. Also encouraged is included representation from the prison system (prison officials, prosecutors, former inmates, etc.) when possible. Not intended to ostracize or judge, this film challenges a system of punishment rather than individuals who see themselves as simply “doing their jobs,” or as victims of the system.

Slave Ship to Prison Bunks

D Jones, with the film Dark Little Secret, asks the question: “Are we prepared, as a society, to allow slavery to go unchecked?”

Schedule a Screening/Discussion

If you would like to screen Dark Little Secret in your area, simply click here to make contact with the director via email or phone to discuss the scope of your event and negotiate the logistics. Currently we are only booking screenings that can accommodate travel expenses for the director (plus one) and an honorarium for showing the film and participating in a post-screening discussion. Unfortunately we are unable to send just the film at this time. We will work hard to secure additional screenings with other colleges or organizations in your area in hopes of helping with the travel costs and we will do our best to use any connections we may have in the area (friends, family or associates) to secure lodging to further defray costs. We understand the far-reaching affects of the current economic squeeze and will do our part to try and keep costs low with respect to our needs.

What you get with a booking: The director (D Jones) and subject of the film (Natural) will attend your event, introduce the film and facilitate a post-screening discussion. We are prepared to handle small and large groups with the hope that most screenings will be geared towards larger groups for a more dynamic discussion. While we can handle the discussion on our own, we welcome being part of a panel with members of your community who are familiar with crime and punishment as academics and/or through experience with the system. We find that encouraging students to attend for extra credit or as part of a class assignment helps with attendance as well.

Film Festivals & Screenings for Dark Little Secret

2nd Place, Best Documentary: 2011 Urban Mediamakers Film Festival, Duluth, Georgia

Official Selection: 2012 San Diego Black Film Festival, San Diego, California

Official Selection: 2012 Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, Seattle, Washington

Official Selection: 2012 Athens International Film & Video Festival, Athens, OH

Official Selection: 2012 Ohio Independent Film Festival, Cleveland, OH

Winner, Best Film: 2012 Youngstown Film Festival

Clazel Theater, Bowling Green, Ohio

Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio

Exodus Transitional Program, New York, New York

Ohio University, Athens, Ohio

Lemon Grove, Youngstown, Ohio

Amsterdam, Netherlands

University of Colorado at Boulder

Cincinnati, Ohio

Drexel Theater Columbus, Ohio

Raves & Reviews for Dark Little Secret

“Being given the opportunity to share a quieted voice through my involvement in Dark Little Secret…keeps me aware of where I have come from, and where I must go. The beauty of this project is unmatched, the voices of slaves being heard loud and clear…I thank Derrick for making this film and involving my voice…”    

-natural (former inmate, current artist and activist, commentator, Dark Little Secret)

“We organized a screening at Cleveland State University. The organizing committee was so impressed with the film we planned an all day summit around it on prison issues…”

‐Sharon Danann (

“One of the best introductions to the oppressive nature of the prison system I have seen…”

‐Staughton Lynd (historian, lawyer, author)

“Private Prisons have to be one of the most disgusting elements of the corporatocracy. There is no economy that is sustainable through warehousing people. Everyone should see D Jones’ The Great Incarcerator part 1: Dark Little Secret.”

‐Jacob Harver (community activist and business owner)

“Dark Little Secret is a powerful film that weaves empirical research and personal narrative to highlight the significant and devastating consequences of mass incarceration – in particular the disproportionate impact of incarceration on people of color and the exploitation of prisoners for profit.  This film is an excellent resource for the classroom and also accessible to the general public.  It is a must-see for anyone interested in issues of social justice.”

-Christine M. Englebrecht, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice Program, Bowling Green State University)