Behind Bars 

Local filmmaker Lucas Krost looks at the business of prisons.

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It's hard to tell if the passionate gleam in Lucas Krost's eye is from lack of sleep, life as a new dad or the skyrocketing success of his documentary "One Nation Under Guard." Having spent the last nine months plunging the depths of the U.S. penal system, 33-year-old Krost, a graduate of VCU and a camera assistant for feature films, has turned his talent with film into an evocative 10-minute-and-43-second call for social change. Currently one of six finalists from 380 films contending for the $100,000 prize in Current TV's Seeds of Tolerance Contest, "One Nation Under Guard" is a damning look at today's justice in America. Style talked with Krost about the making of his film.

Style: What inspired you to make a film about prisons?

Krost: Before an argument with a friend of mine, I had no idea of the gross inequity of the prison systems. As a victim of a violent crime myself, I had always thought people got what they deserved in prison. But then I did some research, and what I found was appalling. Prisons have become a massive industry. Prisons are being traded on the stock market, but people are fuel for this machine, not gas or oil. Communities that have exhausted their resources are bidding for prisons to be built near them just to stimulate the economy.

Every element of our judicial system is flawed and racially biased. Incarceration has become our main form of punishment instead of rehabilitation or reformation. Yes, some people in prison are violent criminals, but most of the people locked up have a clear problem and they need help. Ninety percent of the people in prison now are coming out, and they're bringing what they experienced on the inside with them. The wall between "us and them" is an illusion. They are us.

Having just become a dad yourself, what about making this film has affected you most deeply?

The young boy at the beginning had this idea that he had a dad. But when he was asked about the last time he'd seen him, he had no answer, he just kept thinking. His pause went on for a long time after I quit shooting. I get choked up every time I think about him. When I look at my son now, I think that this kid has to have a dad, he has to know me. It's so important for these kids to have positive male role models in their lives instead of assuming that, just like their dads, prison will be a part of their future.

Ultimately, how important is it to you that you win this contest?

I'm so Zen about this whole thing. I'm going to work hard until the deadline is up. I'm getting three hours of sleep a night, I'm so driven to get the word out and to do it with integrity. If we don't win, we've already reached hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Really, it's not about the money. We started the research for this film long before we heard about the contest. We've put in a lot of our own time and money; it's a labor of love. S

"One Nation Under Guard" can be viewed and voted for through Friday, Dec. 1, at www.current.tv/make/vc2/sot.

Krost will be screening "One Nation Under Guard" upstairs at Café Gutenberg on Nov. 29 at 7, 8 and 9 p.m.

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