With ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99,’ S. Craig Zahler brings a thrilling prison film that features a silent, brooding protagonist and plenty of opportunities for gory and bloodied action sequences. Following Bradley Thomas, a boxer-turned-drug runner, the story revolves around his imprisonment after a deal gone wrong. However, once inside prison walls, Bradley’s previous unsavory business associates threaten to harm his pregnant wife, Lauren, and their unborn daughter. As a result, to win his family’s safety, the man must put his own life at risk and find a way to assassinate one elusive Christopher Bridge.
In Bradley’s deadly mission to kill Bridge, the man has to relocate to The Red Leaf Detention Center, a maximum security prison reserved for the worst of the worst. Therefore, since much of the story focuses on the challenges such a hellish place presents, viewers must be wondering if there’s an actual real-life counterpart to the Red Leaf Prison.
Red Leaf Detention Center: A Fictional Prison Facility
No, the Red Leaf Detention Center from ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99,’ is not based on an actual prison facility. The location itself, including its torturous Cell Block 99, mirrors the film’s fictionality and remains a product of director and writer S. Craig Zahler’s imagination. The filmmaker was struck with the idea to craft Bradley’s character and his story after watching numerous prison movies and having an introspective conversation about what he would do differently within the genre.
When speaking about his interest in the particular storytelling genre in an interview with The Verge, Zahler said, “Prison is such a compelling place to set a movie because you have a bunch of hard-edged dudes confined together, and all of them are going to have interesting backstories.” As such, the Red Leaf prison, as depicted in the film, found its form to serve as one of the story’s central building blocks.
Nevertheless, even though Zahler or any other creative voice behind the film hasn’t mentioned harvesting inspiration from any real-life prison locations or stories, there are a few noticeable similarities between the fictional Red Leaf and real-life Red Onion State Prison. The latter is an actual prison in Virginia, commonly known as a “supermax” prison for its indefinite solitary confinement practices that can extend from anywhere between a few weeks to several years.
According to reports by the Washington Post, prisoners have been known to transfer to the Red Onion prison, where they may face 23 hours long solitary confinement for altercations with a guard at another location. Furthermore, in the one-hour window of recreational freedom, prisoners remain bound with handcuffs and leg shackles under the watchful eyes of guards carrying 50,000-volt stun guns. The article cites prison officials stating their severe restrictions, that forgo rehabilitation for simple warehousing, are required measures that have to be taken against their “worst of the worst” inmates.
Therefore, with the context of Red Onion State Prison and its intense environment, the hellish circumstances of Red Leaf Detention Center and its Cell Block 99 become less outlandish and more grounded in plausibility. However, the two facilities still carry enough distinction to separate fact from fiction. Ultimately, Red Leaf remains a fictitious element within ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’s’ fictional narrative.