Filmmakers Share DeFriest’s Story of Prison Injustice, Present New Evidence in Support of Inmate’s Final Release
New York, NY – After 35 years behind bars, Florida’s most infamous inmate, Mark DeFriest, may finally have the opportunity to experience life outside the prison system. DeFriest, the subject of a new documentary film chronicling his exploits as an escape artist through a harrowing prison journey, has since gained international exposure, spurring a movement to free him and a nationwide dialogue on mental illness in prison. Now, on February 24, DeFriest, who last year gained parole, faces what appears to be his final hurdle: convincing a three-person Tallahassee commission that he is worthy of release.
Riddled with complexities, the case of Mark DeFriest is a story of systemic failures, mental illness and injustice that has inspired a worldwide audience to demand action in this high profile legal case. At 19, DeFriest was arrested for taking the tools his recently deceased father had willed to him before the will was formally probated. Originally found ‘incompetent to be sentenced’ by five of six psychiatrists, DeFriest, like many prisoners with mental illness, spent a shocking amount of time in solitary confinement — nearly 80 percent, or 27 years of his total 34 years served. In prison, a string of escapes and related disciplinary infractions transpired, each one extending DeFriest’s sentence by years, eventually amounting to a release date of 2085, a full 124 years behind bars.
In 2001, Gabriel London, filmmaker and creative director of Found Object, began following DeFriest’s story, eventually releasing the documentary, The Mind of Mark DeFriest, to wide acclaim and distribution on Showtime. The film, which painstakingly recounts much of Mark’s experience, details years of physical and sexual abuse in prison, and his daring 13 escape attempts, 7 of which were successful. The release of the film prompted public outcry, leading the Found Object team to create an outlet for audience members to take action – defriest.com/take-action – to have their voices heard in the parole case. In late 2014, London presented the documentary to members of the Florida Commission on Offender Review prompting the commission to looks at DeFriest’s case in a new light. Later that year, the commission reduced DeFriest’s parole release date from 2085 to March 2015 — an unprecedented reduction of 845 months. But DeFriest’s story didn’t end there.
Due to a contraband charge received in the 1980’s that was parole ineligible, DeFriest was required to serve additional time, allowing the Offender Review Commission to extend their parole evaluation and consequently, DeFriest’s potential release. As part of his parole plan, DeFriest was granted relocation to Oregon to be closer to his wife, Bonnie. However, with a recent, highly-controversial disciplinary action, DeFriest’s fate hangs in the balance.
Today, before the Commission on Offender Review, DeFriest, the filmmakers, his legal council and social justice supporters worldwide are advocating for his final release.
“Florida’s own stringent sentencing guidelines enacted since DeFriest went to prison would have led to his release years ago,” said Gabriel London, creative director at Found Object. “Yet,” London noted, “Mark has served a full 35 years without having physically harmed another individual. What Mark needs now is access to mental health services, and the opportunity to live a healthy productive life in the free world. As a society, we owe him that.”
The public is encouraged to take action by writing letters to the officials involved in DeFriest’s case at defriest.com/take-action and by sharing the story through social channels on Facebook and Twitter. To watch the film or learn more about Mark DeFriest, visit www.defriest.com. The Florida Commission on Offender Review can be reached via email at InmatesSupporter@fcor.state.fl.us.
ABOUT THE FILM: The Mind of Mark DeFriest was produced by Found Object team Gabriel London and Charlie Sadoff, and Daniel J. Chalfen of Naked Edge Films. The film, which premiered internationally at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival in 2014 and in the US at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival, has received international acclaim, including Best Documentary Feature Award at the Lone Star Film Festival, the Audience Award at the Naples International Film Festival, and Best Florida feature at the Key West International Film Festival. The film, which donates 25 percent of the proceeds to DeFriest’s legal fund, is currently available on Showtime for streaming for $3.99 at DeFriest.com. To learn more about the film, take action or contact the team, visit www.defriest.com, connect on Facebook and on Twitter @DefriestFilm.
ABOUT FOUND OBJECT: Founded in 2010, and headquartered in Brooklyn, Found Object is a creative agency that develops story-led social impact campaigns that inform, inspire and influence. With backgrounds in documentary filmmaking, organizational communications and content strategy, the Found Object team is a collective of passionate storytellers, designers, producers and strategists who believe great stories can actually change the world. From corporate citizens to government agencies, Found Object partners with organizations to authentically bring to life powerful stories of businesses, innovative partnerships and individuals making a difference. To learn more about Found Object, visit www.foundobjectsite.com.