After 44 Years Behind Bars, This Man Steps Out Into An Alien-Like World, Full Of New Technological Advances

Hard to imagine this experience.

Ex-offenders reintegrating into society face a plethora of challenges: finding work, reconnecting with family, and adjusting to a new way of life are but a few of them.

For those who have served decades, one of the most disorienting adjustments is the immersion into a world of technological advancement that are absent from prison life. 

A video by Al Jazeera follows one ex-offender named Otis Johnson, who describes his reintegration as though he were a time traveller — seeing high tech advertisements in Times Square and iPhones for the very first time. 


"Prison affected me a lot," he says in the video. "And my re-entry was a little bit hard at first because things had changed."

In 1975, 25-year-old Johnson was placed in prison for the attempted murder of a police officer. 44 years later, in August of 2014, he was released at the age of 69. For over four decades, Johnson had been cut off from the society and culture of the outside world. It was as though time had been frozen for Johnson, making New York City seem like a futuristic place out of a science fiction movie. 

"...iPhones they call them, or something like that. And I thought to my mind, what everybody became CIA, or agents, and stuff like that? Because that's the only thing I can think of, somebody walking around with wires in their ears — That's what they had when I was out during the 60s and the 70s."

To make his experience that much more daunting, Johnson had lost contact with his family in 1998, and had no one to communicate with after his release. According to Al Jeezera's report, he was only "handed an ID, documents outlining his criminal case history, $40 and two bus tickets."

And though programs like Help for Felons are geared toward helping ex-offenders re-enter society after long sentences, Harvard Kennedy School researcher Marieke Liem tells Al Jeezera that resources are still very limited. 

Even the smallest advancements were hard for Johnson to get used to.

Johnson is able to take solace in his meditation and in observing people around the city. 

"Being in society is a good feeling," he says in the video. "A very good feeling, you know? Other than being inside the prison, you can only go outside at certain times, and so I like being in the sun, and also observing people." 

Watch the full video below to learn about Johnson's life after spending 44 years behind bars:

Hearing Johnson's story will hopefully make people more aware of the need for programs and resources to help ex-offenders cope with culture shock and reintegration. 


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