Out of Prison, but Not Free [Video]

By Kai Wright Jul 31, 2014

Most of us understand how hard it is for someone to resume life after a stint of incarceration. We’ve heard about the profound barriers ex-offenders face in the job market–9 out of 10 large employers now run criminal background checks, often in ways that violate clear federal rules against jobs bias. During election years, we often hear about the voting rights restrictions some people with criminal records face. And if you follow the issue closely, then you may even know about the huge number of other potential restrictions–on the ability to get student financial aid, to live in public housing, to obtain hundreds of occupational licenses, and more.

But few people who haven’t dealt directly with incarceration–either themselves, or with a loved one–appreciate the massive psychological toll it takes as well. If the men in our third installment of the Life Cycles of Inequity series are indicative, the profound challenge of resuming life after prison is not defined solely by external affairs, like finding work and housing, but also by internal battles like shedding the emotional and mental trauma of lockup.

For this video installment, filmmaker André Robert Lee traveled to New Orleans to visit a group of men who are helping one another navigate the tricky waters of reentry. They’ve all served many years in Louisiana’s infamous Angola penitentary. The state incarcerates a greater share of its residents than any government in the world, and the overwhelming majority of those prisoners are black men. The same is true nationally–one study estimated there are 65 million people with criminal records in the country. The men André spoke with described the emotional scarring those millions of people are carrying around with them–the myriad not-so-obvious readjustments they are still trying to make as they reenter society, with their families, lovers, friends and coworkers. We invite you to hear what they have to say, and to share it with your networks.

About the Series

Throughout 2014, Colorlines is examining the ways in which inequity shapes the lives of black men. Each month, we’re exploring a new life stage or event in which the evidence shows unique inequities in black male lives, through a combination of investigative reports, dispatches, essays and infographics. And each month, André is asking black men to share their own experiences with that inequity. In May, we began the series by exploring implicit bias inside schools. In June, we turned our attention to early adulthood and the effort to enter the workforce. This month, we look at the relationship between black men and criminal justice. 

On Monday, we’ll publish an exhaustive investigation into the national landscape of victim services. While young black men are far more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, they’re rarely thought of as such. As a result, the only help voilence-saturated communities like those on Chicago’s South Side find comes through criminal justice, rather than through public health. Colorlines’ Carla Murphy traveled to Chicago to explore the crisis that grows out of this failure.

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