Barack Obama's Visit to Federal Prison Covered in VICE Documentary

September 28th 2015

Diana Crandall

VICE’s new documentary “Fixing the System” premiered on HBO Sunday night, illustrating how the war on drugs didn’t just fail — it created a “overly punitive and racially discriminatory” American criminal justice system.

Shane Smith, VICE co-founder, sat down with President Barack Obama and six inmates in July 2015 at El Reno, a federal prison in Oklahoma. The visit was historic, as Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Before they met with inmates, Smith interviewed Obama, who in July commuted the sentences of 89 prisoners who were convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. 

“Is the criminal justice system in America racist?” Smith asked.

“I think that the criminal justice system interacts with broader patterns of society in a way that results in injustice and unfairness,” Obama said.

Smith asked tough questions in interviews with everyone from members of Congress, to judges, police officers and inmates. 

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Mass Incarceration

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Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, told Smith he meets young people who are already serving a different kind of time: one without hope for the future.

“I sit down with 13 and 14-year-old kids who often tell me that they don’t expect to be free -- or alive -- by the time they’re 21.”

RELATED: The Ridiculous Reason 13 Year Olds Are Getting Life Without Parole

Most striking were the emotional moments that showed the impact that the justice system has on the families and friends of the incarcerated.

“I haven’t hugged my son in so many years,” Veronica Vega told Smith through tears. Her son Jesus is serving 64 months in a federal prison for dealing ecstasy. “I hunger for that day.”

“Fixing the System” reported that there are over 1.1 million fathers behind bars in America. But for many in prison, a father’s love transcends barriers.

“Walls can’t stop me from having to be a father for my kids,” said one inmate. “I got to help [them], ‘cause if I get it wrong, then what’s their future but where I’m at right now?

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Posted by ATTN: on Sunday, May 24, 2015