How would you prepare for prison?

An emotionally-charged documentary premiering Nov. 16 on TVO focuses on the lives of three vastly different people who face the daunting prospect of serving a prison sentence for the first time
By TVO Current Affairs - Published on October 18, 2016
Joe Zambito looks out a window
Joe Zambito, a contractor from Windsor, awaits his verdict in 'How to Prepare for Prison.' The film, which has its broadcast premiere on TVO on Nov. 16, documents the high-stakes stories of three people as they prepare for possible incarceration.



How would you prepare for prison?

That's the question at the heart of How to Prepare for Prison, a feature documentary that will have its world broadcast premiere on TVO on Nov. 16. Commissioned by TVO and directed by Matt Gallagher, the film explores fundamental questions about the criminal justice system by following the story of three people facing prison for the first time.

“Much of what we know about prison, crime and criminals comes from fictionalized accounts of prison, reality TV or the evening news,” says Gallagher. “At best it’s mostly cursory information, at worst it’s sensationalized. The people I have interviewed for How to Prepare for Prison want me to know that there is so much more to their story than the crime.”

Shot over three years, Gallagher's documentary examines the lives of people who are not career criminals but have found themselves on the wrong side of the law:

  • Joe Zambito, 45, is a father of three from Windsor arrested when police found an illegal crop of marijuana in a warehouse he rented.
  • Courtney Hills,  a 29-year-old Calgarian, faces a potential multi-year sentence after pleading guilty to fraud. She has hired Lee Chapelle, an ex-convict now working as a prison consultant to walk her through what will likely happen over the next few months as she awaits her sentencing hearing.
  • In Detroit, college student DeMario McMurray faces up to 10 years in prison if he is convicted for assault after an altercation in his dorm room.



In the coming weeks, and The Agenda with Steve Paikin will take a closer look at the state of Canada's justice system and some of the most pressing challenges confronting people caught up in it. In the meantime, we've collected a number of related stories, which you can watch and read below.

Inside Canada's Corrections System


Read more:

Myths and Facts About Prison



What it's like to love a prisoner


Read an excerpt from the first chapter of This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications by Diane Schoemperlen, author of 13 books of fiction and nonfiction. The memoir tells the story of Schoemperlen's six-year relationship with a federal inmate serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. Alongside the personal story are revelations about prison life in Canada and what the author believes is a closed society that Canadians should know more about. Published this year by Harper Collins, the book is the basis for the author's interview with Nam Kiwanuka on The Agenda in the Summer.

Watch the documentary David & Me

Watch an interview with David McCallum


Watch the documentary Out of Mind, Out of Sight: Inside the Brockville Psych


Watch the documentary A Hard Name


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