Bastoy is a small island in the Oslofjord in Norway. The island is a state prison. One hundred and fifteen common criminals serve their sentences, for trafficking drugs, manslaughter, for fraud. Most of them serve long sentences. Guards do not carry any weapons. Prisoners have the key to their own room. In fact, the island is run by the inmates and personnel together.
The documentary follows the life of the prisoners. Some of them are active in the building industry, others in the woods, where they use axes and chainsaws to cut down trees. The film also follows a young detainee who is transferred from a closed prison on the mainland to the island.
The philosophy of the prison is based on the speech of Chief Seattle from 1854, and on the beliefs of Bear Heart as described in his book Heaven Is My Mother (1996): 'If you treat a man as a beast, it will be a beast. If you treat a man as a criminal, it will be a criminal. If you treat a man as a human being, it will be a human being.'