Life After Incarceration

We’re going inside the almost invisible world of American prisons, following President Obama and Pope Francis. This month we met and spoke to four survivors of mass incarceration — Azan Reid, Unique Ismail, Douglas Benton, and Marselle Felton — in a church basement in Codman Square, Dorchester. We asked them: what did prison do, or undo, in you? What do you see now that you didn’t see then? And what don’t we know about you?

It’s a story of ambient violence and neglect in Boston’s Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods in the 1980s and ’90s. Twenty years on these men are stuck in the fight of their lives — to beat the odds and stay out of the pipeline back to prison. Amid it all there’s anger, regret, and wisdom; they’re panicked and hopeful, too. As a bipartisan group of senators wonder how America might stop being the world’s runaway jailer, we’re looking at hints of an aftermath: what will happen when and if the 2 million Americans presently incarcerated come home?

Pastor Bruce Wall of Global Ministries Christian Church oversaw the discussion and joined us in studio with his impressions.

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  • Sue Rushfirth

    Thank you – very much – for tonight’s excellent program and for the chance to hear these four articulate and insightful men describe the immense and potentially overwhelming challenges that they face. My heart ached for the young man who feels that he panics every day.
    This should be required listening. If only …

  • reddaisy

    This was a very powerful program. I’m involved with a couple of justice reform and service programs–principally the Mass. Bail Fund (, and I’ve recommended many others to listen. The truly oppressive circumstances of so many people’s lives (so dramatically reported during the conversation) need to be attended to and corrected. A full employment economy, with publicly supported jobs with no discrimination against former prisoners, would be a start (see my other organization, National Jobs for All Coalition, This country has permitted a whole segment of our population to live in deplorable conditions and too often in fear.

  • Cambridge Forecast


    The ROS show was moving and incisive. The black guests were surprisingly “smarticulate.”

    Several things occurred to me:

    1. How would you “marry” this discussion with the recent Orlando Patterson discussion of the
    situation of black youth, using his new book as occasion. Seems a hybridization of the two shows would be very educational.

    2. The following extract from a web commentary on Alexis de Tocqueville says:

    “Following the successful publication of “Democracy in America” in 1835 (Volume I) and 1840 (Volume II), Tocqueville became known as an expert on prisons and slavery. He published
    reports advocating the immediate emancipation of all slaves in French
    possessions. After his election to the French Academy in 1841, Tocqueville engaged
    in many debates on the slave trade, the French colonization of Algeria…”
    “For Tocqueville, the opportunity to conduct a study of the American prison system was a welcome reason to undertake his journey.”

    What would de Tocqueville say about this ROS discussion and the American prison system now?

    3. The eloquent panelist who mentions his lifelong panic attack somehow cast my mind back to Eldridge Cleaver’s book “Soul on Ice.”.

    How did these souls wind up riding these American ice floes?

    4. Exotically perhaps, but related to the “soul on ice” phenomenon, I was reminded of the
    scene in the movie Studds Lonigan” (based on the classic American novel by
    James Farrell) where Studds is talking to his girlfriend Catherine who has just
    asked him why he’s always jumpy and angry and he explains that when he was a
    kid his parents sent him to a parochial school and he always tried to time his
    arrival at the school streetcar stop to catvh the right streetcar but always
    found it had just pulled out and he could always run after it and keep it in
    his sight but never once could he catch it. Then he says very mournfully: “My
    whole life seems to me like that streetcar I could never catch.”

    The guests on the ROS show, who were very human and appealing, sent my mind back to Studds Lonigan and his streetcar metaphor.

    Perhaps a de Tocqueville could fuse the uncatchable streetcar above with the “soul on ice” phenomenon.

    5. Like you, perhaps, I thought about that murky “double helix”: stances and “circum-stances.”

    Richard Melson