Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison

Solitary is a daring exploration of the lives of inmates and corrections officers in one of America’s most notorious supermax prisons, built to hold inmates in 8x10 cells, 23-hours-a-day, for months, years and sometimes decades.

Built on an Appalachian mountaintop, Red Onion State Prison (one of over 40 supermax prisons across the US built to hold inmates in solitary confinement in 8’x10’ cells for 23 hours a day) is nearly 300 miles from any urban center. Inmates are placed in solitary confinement by prison authorities, they are not sentenced to it by a judge or jury. 

In the immersive Solitary, filmmaker Kristi Jacobson (A Place at the Table) gained unprecedented access to Red Onion and its residents, capturing its chilling sounds and haunting atmosphere. In startlingly intimate and reflective interviews with the inmates, Jacobson discovers their violent childhoods, the dangers of prison life, and their struggles to maintain sanity in the unrelenting monotony of confinement.

Interwoven with their stories are the voices of the corrections officers, who are serving a different type of time right alongside the prisoners, while they struggle to maintain their humanity. As the prison initiates a reform program to reduce the number of inmates held in solitary, the process provides an unexpected window into life on both sides of the bars.

Filmed over the course of one year, Solitary tells the stories of people caught in the complex American penal system and raises provocative questions about punishment in America today. 



“Unflinching. SOLITARY” pinpoints how institutions such as Red Onion [supermax prison] cultivate physical and emotional brutality in everyone who steps through its gates.


“Refusing to shy away from harsh truths..  SOLITARY offers a complicated portrait of 21st-century crime and punishment.”


“Deeply disturbing and moving.”

Documentary Magazine

“Intelligent, thoughtful, and tough documentary filmmaking.”


“An act of wide-ranging compassion, Kristi Jacobson's Solitary leaves crime-and-punishment statistics aside and takes us into a single Supermax prison in Virginia.”  

The Hollywood Reporter

Premieres & Awards


Tribeca Film Festival, 2016

Official Selection

Sheffield Doc Film Festival, 2016

Official Selection

Human Rights Watch Film Festival, 2016

Official Selection

AFI DOCS, 2016