Virtual reality

Prison inmates are using virtual reality to visit home

By Kitty Knowles 25 October 2017
Catalina Alarcón's Back Home VR helps inmates reconnect with their families from a San Joaquin prison. Pic: Constanza Miranda

Catalina Alarcón's Back Home VR helps inmates reconnect with family.

Prison bars may physically lock inmates in, but one penal institution has used virtual reality to set their minds free.

Chilean filmmaker Catalina Alarcón has worked with 12 women housed in one San Joaquin female prison to help them reconnect with the outside world.

The director ran a six-month documentary workshop at the prison, which started in March with film discussion sessions and closed in September with inmates watching immersive films of their families at home.

Back Home VR

For the project titled Back Home (or Volver a casa in Spanish) Alarcón arranged for a 360° camera to the homes of family members, who each spent a few minutes guiding the viewer through the space while talking about everyday life.

The result was a series of touching films with titles like Until I come back, Daughter, and Allende, my grandfather Allende.

Each included emotional clips of family life: one inmate watched a relative as they cooked dinner in the kitchen, while others took time to apologise to the incarcerated for not visiting more often.

Inspired or outraged?

There will undoubtedly be some who see virtual ‘escape’ as a luxury that prisoners should not be allowed. But this is something Alarcón has considered in an interview with Chilean news outlet Emol.

While the filmmaker acknowledges that prisons are intended as spaces of isolation, she stresses the importance of giving the hope of reintegration through meaningful projects behind bars.

Alarcón says she hopes to build on the project in the future, to use streaming that will allow inmates interact with loved ones in real-time.

We hope that by keeping the dream of freedom alive, inmates will feel able to truly make changes for the better.

You can watch a teaser for the Back Home VR experience below: