For immediate release
Chicago, IL - January 17, 2023
They walk through prison gates with little more than a bus ticket and less than $100. After spending months or years counting down their sentences, they have days or hours to find food, housing, healthcare, and a job. Beginning on February 13 and throughout 2023, WTTW’s FIRSTHAND: LIFE AFTER PRISON offers an intimate look at the challenges and opportunities facing people returning to society after spending time in prison, as they seek to restart their lives while carrying the stigma of a criminal record.
FIRSTHAND: LIFE AFTER PRISON is part of the award-winning FIRSTHAND multiplatform, multi-year initiative focusing on the firsthand perspectives of people facing critical issues in Chicago. Visit the website (wttw.com/firsthand) on February 13, 2023 to explore the elements of the project, which include:
- A documentary series following five Chicagoans facing life after prison
- Five expert talks by community and thought leaders offering insights, historical context, and possible solutions
- Text and visual journalism in partnership with Injustice Watch, the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, and WTTW News exploring re-entry and its impact in Chicago
- Community conversations with thought leaders and project participants extending the reach of the project into Chicago neighborhoods
- Companion discussion guide for schools, libraries, and other community organizations
- Chicago Tonight special news coverage
“As a public media organization, it’s our responsibility to shine a spotlight on vital issues that impact the people and communities in our city and region with trusted, essential content,” said Sandra Cordova Micek, President and CEO of WTTW. “Through revealing personal stories and experiences, FIRSTHAND: LIFE AFTER PRISON provides an up-close view of the challenges and opportunities people face as they strive to restart their lives.”
Five Documentaries Watch the trailer >>
- Nicholas Crayton is spending the final days of a 24-year sentence at an innovative prison known as a Life Skills Re-Entry Center. We follow Nicholas as he walks through the prison gates and starts the next chapter of his life. While he’s set his sights on launching his own tech company, the challenges of adapting to life on the outside prove harder than he’d imagined.
- Paul S. served 15-and-a-half years in prison for aggravated child molestation. His challenges include the prohibitions placed on sex offenders, and the stigma that "once a sex offender, always a sex offender." Determined to move forward with his life, Paul has found religion and true love.
- Kyle Hilbert, a recovering heroin and crack cocaine addict, has been locked up more than 20 times and experienced homelessness. This time, with the help of an addiction recovery center, Kyle is determined to stay clean, so he can rebuild relationships with his family and pursue a new relationship.
- Tawana Pope had committed crimes to support her lifelong struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. After her last stint in jail, she made a decision to change her life. Now an ordained minister and author, she is giving hope to many former and currently incarcerated people.
- Marcelo de Jesus Velazquez is making up for lost time after spending 20 years behind bars. He is starting a career, reuniting with his mom and son, and even lobbying state legislators for prison reform. But he realizes he can’t do it alone: Marcelo is seeking out supportive housing and other help.
Through the lens of personal experiences and expertise, expert talks offer insight, historical context, and possible solutions.
“The Hurt, the Harm, and the Healing”
Orlando Mayorga – McCormick re-entry Policy Coordinator for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative\
“Untangling the Path to Erasing Criminal Records”
Regina Hernandez – Supervising Attorney for Legal Aid Chicago
“No Place to Call Home”
Ahmadou Dramé – Program Director for the Illinois Justice Project
“The Humanity We Deserve”
Nneka Jones Tapia, PhD – Managing Director of Justice Initiatives for Chicago Beyond
“Prison After Prison”
Marlon Chamberlain – Manager for the Fully Free Campaign
In partnership with Injustice Watch, PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, and WTTW News, FIRSTHAND will publish text and visual reporting and analysis covering re-entry in the Chicago region, including:
- An overview of the challenges facing people upon re-entry from prison and the efforts underway in Illinois to address these challenges
- A look at the effects of prison on mental health and the impacts after release
- As the number of older adults leaving prison is likely to rise in the coming years, an analysis of the resources or lack thereof available to seniors
- An exploration of how young people make their way after incarceration
Partnerships and Engagement
In partnership with Illinois Humanities’ Envisioning Justice Initiative, WTTW will present community screenings and conversations about re-entry in Chicago and Illinois throughout the year. These events will invite community residents, practitioners, policy makers, and the philanthropic community to engage in dialogue and explore ways to effect possible positive change.
Discussion and Resource Guide
A companion discussion guide written by University of Illinois Chicago College of Liberal Arts & Science Criminology, Law and Justice Assistant Professor Julian Thompson, PhD. will provide direction and prompts for meaningful discussion and engagement, and tools to examine and understand the complexities people face after incarceration.
WTTW News Special
At 7:00 pm on the night of the project launch, February 13, WTTW’s flagship news program Chicago Tonight will present a WTTW News special episode dedicated to the topic of re-entry.
The FIRSTHAND: LIFE AFTER PRISON documentary series is produced by Mario Tharpe; directed by Resita Cox, Pat Odom, Mario Tharpe, Teresa White, and Donna Wilson; and executive produced by Dan Protess and Anne Gleason. FIRSTHAND: Talks produced by Judith McCray. Vice President: of Community Engagement & DEI: Tim Russell. Senior Vice President of Digital & Marketing: Anne Gleason.
WTTW is the PBS member station in Chicago, committed to creating and presenting unique media content across distinct television and digital channels – WTTW, WTTW Prime, WTTW Create, WTTW World, WTTW PBS Kids 24/7, wttw.com, and the PBS/WTTW video app. Recognized for award-winning journalism and local productions – such as CHICAGO TONIGHT, BLACK AND LATINO VOICES, CHICAGO STORIES, FIRSTHAND, BEYOND CHICAGO FROM THE AIR, and CHICAGO BY ‘L – WTTW presents the very best in public affairs, arts and culture, nature and science, history and documentary, and children’s public media content. Connect with WTTW on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.