Prison Reform
The First Step
Review by Ross Anthony

I'm familiar with Van Jones from various TV pundit/guest appearances, and his podcast "Uncommon Ground." I appreciate that he brings two opposing sides together to talk intelligently without nasty words to explore solutions across idealogical lines.

"The First Step" is at least as much of a "getting to know" the life of Van Jones as it is a doc on the prison reform legislation that gives the film its title. It also offers a close up look into the sort of politicking that seems to be part of the lawmaking process. The sincere contributions of others are also portrayed. Access to tense meetings and actual negotiations gives the film its substance.

That said, on a production level, the less-than-ideal audio can make it very difficult to hear what people are saying. At times, captions are employed. While I appreciate how difficult it can be to get good audio in these situations, more captioning could reduce those issues.

The other problem with the doc is in the wrap up. Van Jones states that he aims to get a prison reformation bill passed, not sentencing reform. Ultimately the later is included in the bill to keep it alive. That's fine, but the documentary concludes with a few anecdotal happy prisoners being released early. But, where are the portrayals of prison reform? Wasn't this his aim? This results in a "bait and switch" feel, rather than a solid resolve. I wanted to see the meat of the reform. I wanted to hear what steps were put in place to help prisoners succeed on the outside.

In sum, this is a flawed, but worthwhile documentary. In an age where Americans seem to be losing trust in negotiation and even the intentions of "the other side," we urgently need to see examples of people who can have meaningful, civil, productive discussions with those they completely disagree with. This film offers a rare media example of that.

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  • The First Step. Copyright © 2023.
  • Featuring Van Jones, Jared Kushner, Kim Kardashian West. Directed by Brandon Kramer. Meridian Hill.

Grade..........................B+ (2.5/4)

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Copyright © 1998-2023 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: or call 1-800-767-7186. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.

Last Modified: Monday, 06-Mar-2023 10:03:15 PST