Starting the Conversation
Up the Ridge
"When I visited Wallens Ridge in the spring of 1999, it was new and as yet unoccupied. It felt like a house on moving day, all echoes and loneliness. What I found there was the perfectly evolved American prison. It was both lavishly expensive and needlessly remote, built not because it was needed but because it was wanted by politicians who thought it would bring them votes." --Joseph T. Hallinan Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation,2001
"The use of American correction executives with abuse accusations in their past to oversee American-run prisons in Iraq is prompting concerns in Congress. Mr. Armstrong, assistant director of operations in American prisons in Iraq…resigned last year after Connecticut settled lawsuits…with the families of two Connecticut inmates who died after being sent…to Wallens Ridge, a super-maximum security prison in Virginia." --New York Times, May 21, 2004
Up the Ridge is a one-hour documentary (also available in other
lengths) produced by Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby. In 1999, Szuberla
and Kirby were volunteer DJ’s for the Appalachian region’s only hip-hop
radio program when they received hundreds of letters from inmates
transferred into nearby Wallens Ridge, the region’s newest prison,
built to prop up the shrinking coal economy. The letters described
human rights violations and racial tension between staff and inmates.
Filming began that year. Through the lens of Wallens Ridge State
Prison, the documentary offers an in-depth look at the United States
prison industry and the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands
of inner-city minority offenders to distant rural outposts. The film
explores competing political agendas that align government policy with
human rights violations, and political expediencies that bring
communities into racial and cultural conflict with tragic consequences.
Connections exist, in both practice and ideology, between human rights
violations in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and physical and psychological
abuse recorded in U.S. prisons.
The Up the Ridge
documentary can be purchased from our Amazon account. The DVD also includes a special film about how to use Thousand Kites, hill-hop tracks, and a thirty-minute cut of Up the Ridge for community screenings. A copy for grassroots use is also available. Contact Us.
Listen to a Hill-Hop track from Up the Ridge.
Resources for screening Up the Ridge
Download the facilitation guide to screen a film in your community! Click on the image to download.
Poster for Up the Ridge doc
Audience Feedback Form pdf
Press Release doc
Up the Ridge Image jpg (right click to download)
Select Screenings and Awards:
In-Doc Film Festival, Jakarta, Indonesia
Athens International Film and Video Festival "Best Documentary"
San Francisco Frozen Film Festival
Big Muddy Film Festival "John Michaels Award"
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Southern Fried Flicks Film Festival
Northampton Independent Film Festival
Rural Route Film Festival
One World Film Festival