The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is an unusual documentary about prisons in the United States.

It is unusual for two immediate reasons. One, it was made by a Canadian. Two, it has no prisons in it.

“It's a film about the U.S. prison system in which we never see a single prison," says Canadian documentary filmmaker, Brett Story.

It instead examines the impacts of incarceration outside the prison walls, from an impoverished Kentucky coal mining town looking to a new federal prison as a much-needed source of employment, to the story of a woman who ends up in jail because she didn’t put her garbage bin lid on properly.

It’s set in the U.S., the country that imprisons more people per-capita than any other, but Story says there are lessons to be learned in Canada as well.

She says one thing the two country’s prison systems have in common is the over-representation of minorities, addicts, and the impoverished. She says in many cases, prison is not the answer.  "I think we need a massive rethink about why we lock so many people up and whether or not it in fact makes communities safer, which the evidence shows that they do not" she says.

Organizers wanted to bring the documentary to Ottawa where the local Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre has been dealing with its own issues stemming from overcrowded conditions. “In the case of most folks at OCDC, these are people who are awaiting their trials. So the harms of criminalization and punishment are something that begins from the moment that someone encounters a police officer," says Justin Piché, Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa.

Dan Parlow agrees. He says his troubles with the law began when he was taken off his First Nations reserve outside Sault Ste. Marie and placed in a series of foster and group homes. What started out as running away ended up as thirty years of his life in and out of prison. A cycle he was only able to break by being able to re-connect with his indigenous roots.

“Prisons have never helped me,” says Parlow. “It’s the community, that restoration back into the community that has.”

Parlow is still healing. He is now studying criminology at Carleton University.

A good reason for Parlow to see “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes,” and in turn a good example of the filmmaker’s point, that perhaps it’s time to rethink why we lock so many people up.