Rachel Canning

“‘Silent Night’ depicts the hard life of a young man entering prison for the first time, and shows the main antagonizing force against him as other inmates.”

Rachel Canning, M.A., English
Lead Researcher
“Silent Night” (1960s)

16mm film (orig.)
b&w, sound
7:00 minutes (excerpts)
Subtitles added for exhibit.

Produced in the 1960’s, “Silent Night”* is a training film intended for prison system personnel. Taking place in Raleigh’s North Carolina State Prison (also known as Central Prison), the film follows the experiences of the fictional nineteen-year-old character Jim Garris. Although the film takes place in Central Prison, the family of O.B. Garris believes that it was used in training throughout the South, not just the prison in which it takes place. Central Prison was opened in 1884, and was largely built by prisoners who would eventually move into it. Its castle-like structure provided an interesting backdrop for the film, giving contrast between the young, frightened character of Jim and the intimidating and harsh environment into which he has been thrown.

“Silent Night” depicts the hard life of a young man entering prison for the first time, and shows the main antagonizing force against him as other inmates. The purpose of this film was to train employees of the prison on how to work with inmates who are struggling. Unique in perspective, it shows prison proceedings through the eyes of the prisoner rather than guards or administrative staff. The goal of this would have been to improve relationships between staff and inmates so that work towards rehabilitation could improve.

Interesting facts: O.B. Garris lent his own last name to the fictional lead male character, who was performed by his real-life future son-in-law. Assorted family members and friends play roles throughout, as well as an actual judge and other law enforcement officials.

*”Silent Night” is the presumed title based on extant related materials. The opening credits are missing from the Century Film Studios collection.

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Related documentation:
B-Cell Block, ca. 1910s.
Central Prison, Raleigh, NC, ca. 1920s. Credit: Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina.

Postcard image “State Penitentiary, Raleigh, N.C.” ca. 1907. Credit: Courtesy of GoodnightRaleigh.com.