For Life certainly knows how to deliver a quiet, profound, and emotional hour.
It also nailed the art of a bottle episode with For Life Season 2 Episode 6, making it one of the best, powerful hours of the series.
It also found a way to incorporate COVID-19 in a way that we haven’t seen addressed yet.
Prison reform is a hot-button issue where those with a vested interest discuss it often. However, it falls under the radar for the majority of the population.
When the pandemic hit, there were so many things to figure out with criminal justice and prison systems. Prisons have large groups of people in confined spaces, and it’s a breeding ground for the virus to spread.
And unlike hospitals, senior nursing homes, or other institutions with high traffic and people, many didn’t consider or sadly care about how the virus could affect those on the inside.
As the pandemic went on and the virus ravaged many places, including prisons, there were new things to consider. One of the things that many prisons had to reevaluate was prison terms.
In overcrowded prisons where there wasn’t enough space for social distancing or PPE for prison staff and prisoners, they had to determine if it was in the best interest of all to release non-violent prisoners, especially those who served most of their terms.
Aaron: He’s sleeping in the car. He’s so scared.
Masry: They’re understaffed. Guards are calling in sick and taking vacation time.
Yeah, we got some of the frontline worker thrown into the mix with Marie. As a nurse working at a hospital, she was bravely on the frontline, and she took time away from her family to treat others.
But Aaron got into the fight from another angle without intending it. When he couldn’t reach Jamal, he went back to the prison, and the situation was bleak from there.
Masry is such an underrated character, and I adore that she got back into the fold during this installment. I also enjoyed that it put her special bond with Aaron on full-display.
She was the perfect person for Aaron to contact for help. Without her, he would have never gotten through those gates, and men would’ve continued dying.
Call the Attorney General. We want full PPE and a walk through solitary, right now!
From the moment Jamal walked through those doors, casting furtive glances around when talking to Jamal, you knew something was up, and he was trying to keep his mouth shut in front of Lassiter.
It was already odd that Aaron didn’t get alone time with Jamal when he’s his lawyer. Jamal slipping Aaron the not was ingenious, and without that simple piece of paper, they would’ve never gotten the positive outcome they did in the end.
The prison was trying to hide the fact that they had COVID cases, and they even kept it under wraps that Xavier died from it. The poor man told his family he thought he had symptoms, and then two days later, he was dead.
Even though they considered his cause of death a heart attack, suddenly, they took all of these protocols to ensure that there wasn’t something spreading. But the COVID restrictions and protocol inside of the prison bordered on inhumane.
They still had two men to a cell and double bunks. The prison was understaffed, people called in sick or took vacation time, and some probably quit. The prisoners were down to one meal a day; prisoners weren’t allowed outside of their cells at all.
And anyone who showed symptoms was tossed into solitary confinement, but what good is sticking a bunch of sick and potentially dying men in solitary when you aren’t going to treat them or get medical help?
Xavier died in solitary confinement because the guards were too scared to go into the cell, didn’t call for medical help, and didn’t go inside until it was too late. The footage of his death and the events after it was horrific.
Aaron and Masry make a hell of a team because they wouldn’t rest until they figured out what really happened to Xavier and how the other prisoners were.
Masry: There were good men who went along with this.
Aaron: Systems are bigger than people.
Xavier’s death was suspicious, and it did seem as if the new warden, Hernandez, was giving them the runaround. They said he’s a tough but fair man, but it was hard to respect that when he didn’t know what the hell was happening in his own prison.
How often can one person — the one in charge, mind you– use “I don’t know” and “no one told me” as an excuse for their ignorance?
All Hernandez ever said was that the guards didn’t inform him of something or the prisoners never told the C.O’s. But the failure to communicate was a result of some of the guards.
I’ll tell you something else. From what I’ve seen, there’s no way that a prison with 1700 people only has 11 cases. No way.
Hasan didn’t even know that Hasan died, and he’s the prisoner rep. They wouldn’t let him walk the grounds and see how his fellow inmates were doing. They attempted to keep the prisoners in the dark, and they rushed Xavier’s family through his death process to avoid any attention.
It wasn’t until Aaron and Masry poked into all the ways they screwed with Xavier that they found out about the COVID cases and then had to spend the night as part of a protocol until they could resolve the issue further.
I’m glad Aaron checked in with Marie for a few reasons, one of them being that she was right about how many cases the prison had. No way a correctional facility with that many people and poor conditions only had 11 positives.
Dez came in to smooth some things over and negotiate, and his new position suits him. He appears genuine in wanting to do the right thing and be the best at his job.
Marie: Are you outside the gates?
Marie: Well, can I see the buses? I wanna see your brothers coming out.
Aaron: Can you see them?
Marie: Three-hundred fifty-four.
Aaron: Three-hundred fifty-four going home.
What’s interesting is how it means he can serve as Aaron’s ally or his antagonist, depending on the case and situation. In this instance, he was a bit of both.
He was on the wrong side of matters, but he was also working within the system and what it does. The city couldn’t afford to have Xavier’s family suing them for wrongful death and negligence.
But part of making things right would’ve been pulling the trigger on the plan to release non-violent offenders. It’s something they were already discussing, but it was the perfect time to make it happen.
They went from 7.5% of the men getting released to 20% of them. It was a hell of a deal, and it would save the prisoners and correctional officers and staff, too. With a decreased population, there’s less of a chance of contracting the virus and it spreading.
You have to appreciate the nuance of the situation and how For Life explored it.
Hernandez was dismissive of COVID and thought it was another flu and didn’t respect social distancing or mask-wearing if he could help it; however, he implemented as much of the protocols and restrictions without forcing things.
It was the bare minimum, yes, but it could’ve been worse. And the guards, those like Lassiter, their despicable actions were a result of fear.
It’s disgusting what they did, but their motivations and reasonings make sense when you consider that they were scared of getting sick or dying at work and losing their jobs if they revealed their COVID numbers.
Aaron: They keep telling me that I’m never going to get over unless … I think they want me to cry on a couch or something, you know? Like you see in those movies.
Masry: What do you think?
Aaron: I’m not sure I want to get over it.
Masry: I hear that.
If prisoners are released early to reduce the population, then they don’t need as many guards. And if they don’t have enough prisoners, then it means prisons will shut down or merge.
It’s all business, numbers, and politics. It’s not surprising that a union rep would suggest they do whatever they can to cover their asses and save their jobs even if doing so jeopardizes lives or costs them.
Correctional officers like Lassiter were worried and putting their self-interest above what was right. The deal Aaron struck precludes him from going after the C.O. Union and prison as he’d want, but Dez claims he’ll try to do something.
It’s not much he can do, though, is it? Hernandez probably can’t even fire Lassiter and the others because of their actions. The union will protect them.
And like Masry said, it’s a case of some good men doing bad things.
I do believe that the mayor blindsided Dez with the call for Aaron to drop his “collars for dollars” case and civil suit. Aaron is learning that none of the good he tries to do comes without a fight or obstacles.
And he has to compromise sometimes, in the worst ways. He had to drop those cases, and they could’ve done some real good if he won. It’s a hell of a sacrifice, but he got 354 men home.
He and Masry both did that. I love these two a lot, and it was nice to check in with both of them as they caught up with each other’s lives.
You know being back here I know I got some things to figure out for myself, but there’s no confusion when it comes to being with you.
Masry’s marriage isn’t doing well, and she and her wife are separated and headed toward divorce. Her job prospects remain bleak, but she’s such a good-hearted person, and when she shared with Aaron how she got involved in prison rights, you knew she’s always cared about doing good.
And she was genuinely interested in how Aaron was adjusting outside of prison. She even knew to check in with him. You could tell it affected him spending the night in that place again.
Through their conversation, we know that Aaron is seeing a therapist. While he had some gripes, and they both poked fun, I’m happy he’s getting some help.
Between therapy and his conversations with Masry, it prompted him to forgive Marie. Life isn’t binary, and he slowly realized that his black or white way of thinking was interfering with his happiness and ability to cope with the world.
Marie’s infidelity is a hard pill to swallow, but they both wanted and needed to work through this. In the end, they’re better together than apart, and they’ve improved their communication.
It’s not too late for the Wallaces, even if it may be for Masry and her wife.
Masry was brave to walk through the prison in full PPE to see what the hell was going on. And one of the best things about Masry is that the prisoners respected her. She’s this thin, nowhere near intimidating looking woman, and she earned the respect of all of these so-called hardened criminals.
You could see the relief on some of their faces when they recognized her. They always knew that she cared about them and making their lives better. They could always trust her regarding that.
Each little head nod was enough to make you smile, and her final exchange with Jamal was enough to make you sigh in relief. Jamal knew in that instant that Aaron and Masry were going to make things OK, and they did.
It was hard not to get emotional when they went through and called out the prisoners for release. As we know, some of them were good men and are, as Marie said, Aaron’s brothers.
Goodleaf is as loyal as they come, and he’s always been a friend to Aaron. He’s always been a standout, and you want nothing but good things for this man.
The expression on Greenleaf’s face when he found out he was going home was priceless. When he fist-bumped the window as he saw Aaron standing outside watching the buses leave, it got dusty in the room. I’m just saying.
And it’s the same with Hassan. He told Aaron not to forget him, them, the prison, and what they’ve gone through, and Aaron didn’t.
He’s such a quiet but wise man, devoted to his faith, and a straight-shooter. I have no doubts he was a great prison rep, and I cannot be happier about him going home.
Somehow, they found some happy endings here, and with characters whom we’ve grown invested in and fell in love along the way without even realizing the full extent of it.
It made for a beautiful ending to the hour.
Over to you, For Life Fanatics. What did you think of their take on COVID? Are you happy for Hasan and Goodleaf?
Are you relieved that Aaron and Marie made up? How badass is Masry? Hit the comments below!
You can watch For Life online here via TV Fanatic.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.