Skip to Content
Unguarded cover image

Unguarded 2021


Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by T.J. Berden
Directed by Simonetta D'Italia Wiener
Streaming, 47 mins

College - General Adult
Human rights; Mental health; Prison reform

Date Entered: 05/13/2022

Reviewed by Gisèle Tanasse, University of California Berkeley

Unguarded focuses on the work of the Association to Protect and Aid Convicts (APAC), a network of alternative prisons, “employing a unique method to provide human dignity and personal rehabilitation.” The program is highly reflective and spiritual, with “recuperandos” (or people who are recovering, intentionally not referred to as inmates), engaging in monthly days of solidarity with those imprisoned in more traditional systems by being locked up. Throughout the film, we see recuperandos engaged in a very home-like environment, gardening, cooking, singing, dancing, playing guitar, repairing equipment, and visiting with family while also focusing on counseling, mental health, and writing for healing.

The program relies heavily on volunteers, as well as the work of recuperandos to operate, giving the recuperandos opportunities for employment upon release. The facilities intentionally put the keys to the “prison” in the hands of the “inmates,” because, as is painted in bright colors on the wall at APAC Itaúna, “No one escapes from love.” One recuperando, Bruno, whose story anchors the film, shares that when he was put in charge of the gate key, he was very motivated to not lose trust, noting that his motivation to stay at APAC is clear, with traditional prisons cramming 30 inmates into cells with 10 beds, serving rotten food and regularly pepper spraying inmates.

The documentary is a compelling depiction of a program that would seem to offer benefits to incarceration systems globally and is therefore recommended for courses in incarceration studies, latinx, global studies, and human rights. Its greatest strength may be in the objective depiction of the challenges that APAC still faces, including the victim and survivor perspective. One sister of a victim of femicide notes that she and her sister’s children continue to suffer, not receiving financial support, mental health support, or the job training that APAC recuperandos receive. It’s also noted that when released from APAC, some recuperandos, facing new challenges, die prematurely through suicide or violence. The film therefore serves as an excellent opportunity not only to examine the benefits such a program brings, but also to reflect on needs for expanded support for survivors and the recently released.

Semi-Finalist, Latin American Studies Association Film Festival

Published and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Anyone can use these reviews, so long as they comply with the terms of the license.