Ward 2-West presents an honest and direct profile of twenty-six men, all found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” all incarcerated at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a hospital for the criminally insane located on Ward’s Island near Manhattan.

Ward 2-West houses a group of men who have committed some of the most notorious and gruesome crimes in New York City’s history. Are people capable of committing monstrous acts of cruelty monsters themselves? In 1990, Producer David Isay spent one week, day and night, with the men of Ward 2-West to better understand the circumstances behind such extreme criminal behavior. Isay found that nearly every patient at Kirby had lived a life of almost unspeakable physical and mental abuse before committing his own crime.

The sensitive portraits that emerge from the documentary present disturbed men whose personal suffering cannot be denied — they speak with hauntingly human voices that we would all rather forget.

Recorded in Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, New York City. Premiered August 25, 1991, on SoundPrint.

This documentary comes from Sound Portraits Productions, a mission-driven independent production company that was created by Dave Isay in 1994. Sound Portraits was the predecessor to StoryCorps and was dedicated to telling stories that brought neglected American voices to a national audience.