Documentary: 13th

Documentary: 13th

I have always been fascinated by incarceration. Locking people up in small areas, sometimes for their entire life. Why? How? This fascination even led me to do my internship in a Dutch prison back in 2017. I then saw everything from up front. I don’t know if I still would choose the same internship now in 2022, because my views have changed. But the fascination about incarceration has stayed. This led me to watch a documentary which shines light on mass incarceration in relation to racism in the United States. Today I am sharing this documentary with you: 13th.

Know Your History

Today I am writing about the United States and what I’ve learned from the documentary 13th. But in no way can I, as a Dutch person, judge the Americans for the things they’ve done or are doing, without knowing my own history. The Dutch history. I thank my wealth to ancestors who traveled the world, stole from nations around the world, showed extreme violence to different people around the world, enslaved entire nations and the list goes on. When I say anything about racism, it must be here in Netherlands. Because racism is here too, even though Dutch people think it’s not or not so much. This is simple not true.

And so, I try to combat racism here in the Netherlands. And I am not the person who says how things should be done in the United States. But! I do want to inform you about different issues around the globe. And the documentary I am sharing today is extremely important. Whatever you do after watching the documentary, know your own history if you’re white. Because we cannot judge other nations without looking at our own.


Onto the documentary. 13th is a documentary which sheds a light on mass incarceration in the United States. The United States houses 5% of the world population, but 25% of all prisoners worldwide. And so we speak of mass incarceration, because these statistics are out of balance. How come? The documentary tells you why. The documentary is called 13th is because it resolved around the 13th amendment of the constitution in the United States. This 13th amendment makes it illegal to enslave anyone since 1865. It must assure freedom to all American people. But there is one exception to freedom: criminals.

Criminals are allowed to work for close to nothing in prison and sometimes locked up their entire life. Therefore the subtitle of the documentary is: from slave to criminal in one amendment. Right now, the chance for white men to go to prison in the United States is 1 in 17, for black men it’s 1 in 3. 13th shows us, in my opinion, how mass incarceration is just a symptom of a bigger issue: racism.

The documentary shows how complicated racism in the United Stated is and how many factors play a role. Mass-incarceration is just one example to portrait the entire system of racism. So many factors play a role. The so-called ‘war on drugs’, politics, mass-incarceration, socio-economic factors, demographics, private prisons, lobbying, plead deals, the violence inside prisons, police violence, etc. It also shows the absurd system around crime that the government has built. The three strike law for example or mandatory minimum sentences. The problem of racism is massive.


Racism keeps getting a new form. It went from slavery to convict leasing, then the Jim-crow system, after that the mass incarceration and so much more. It shows that the core problem is of this injustice is racism and that’s what we need to combat. I am not here to tell you how to do that. The resources are there. We just need to listen to people of color and make room for them. A good Dutch website is Wit Huiswerk, where you can learn all about what you should do to combat racism.

Have you seen the documentary 13th? It can be seen on Netflix.

Another must watch is the series: When They See Us.

Yours sincerely,

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