Jeremy Lee MacKenzie is a Burlington based artist & storyteller. He turned to art after being incarcerated in a Corrections Corp. of America prison in KY where he designed the intricate art collection "Hidden Blueprints” which he carved in mahogany panels upon his release.
Our story seeks to illuminate the inner life of prisoners through ancient themes. Instead of a talking-head documentary, our goal is to use artwork and narrative storytelling to create a mythology around the film’s central character, Mikey. In this way, what could easily be a story of “the other” is elevated into something much more personal and brings the experiences of these prisoners closer to the heart of the community.
During Jeremy’s time at the Lee Adjustment Center, he met a praying mantis kept by prisoners. Mantis fights were a source of entertainment for the prisoners and they would bet on the outcome.
One mantis gradually made an impression on the prisoners, it would come to them when called, reach out for people it knew, and make direct eye contact when people are talking. Mikey became their friend, and would live in the cell with them, not in a shoebox like the other mantises. He would even eat the same food they ate! He was named after the Life Cereal commercial.
The prisoners stop fighting mantises, seeing that they aren’t just stupid insects, and shouldn’t be kept in cages or be made to fight each other.
Suddenly things change. Jeremy is selected for a college program offered to inmates, but at that same time the warden is abusing his powers and overcrowding the facility to increase profit. The prisoners face a choice: pursue their college opportunity, or stage an uprising. As conditions worsen, they make a pact that no one be killed, and launch the uprising.
It turns into a riot, and by the end of the night the prison is in flames. Jeremy helplessly watches the administration building, and his college opportunity, burn. He also realizes Mikey, back in his cell, cannot be saved. Mikey, the champion fighting mantis, is the only one killed in the riot.
The warden is fired, but Jeremy and the other prisoners are kept in the burned prison while its rebuilt. But during this time, Jeremy decides to immortalize Mikey, and other stories of the prison, in blueprints that he would hide in his legal work. Many years would pass with these documents kept secret, before they could ever be realized.
As the years pass, the legend of Mikey grows. Inmates in different prisons, who never knew Mikey and were never in the riot, know who he was. The story of Mikey’s martyrdom becomes a legend and inspiration among prisoners, and changes lives in unexpected ways.