Friday, 20 May 2016

Life After 44 Years in Prison

After being in prison for 44 years, the world can be an overwhelming place. To Otis Johnson, there was a vast amount of people walking fast, staring at their mobile devices and not paying attention to the world around them.

This can be a confusing time for someone who has been in prison since 1975. Johnson feels that he has entered a frightening society where everyone is a secret agent, watching people and wearing wires. We don't blame him, the tech era completely passed him by when he has in prison.


The 44 year sentence began when Johnson was arrested for the attempted murder of a police man. He entered jail when he was just 25 years old and by the time he came out in August 2014 he was 69.

Johnson was meant to be released earlier, but he ended up serving an extra eight months at the age of 69 for a juvenile shoplifting charge he received when he was 17!

The initiatives to reduce the sentences for drug offenders and nonviolent crimes are under way, but it seems like the old people in prison also need a legislation reform.

From 1999 to 2014, the amount of prisoners aged from 55 and older went up by 250%, while those younger than 55 grew by only 8%. It seems that the number of elderly prisoners is growing over the years.

After drug offenders are qualified for early release, elderly prisoners could be next to be reintroduced into the world.

But, just think about the problems and obstacles that former inmates will face after spending most of their lives locked up. They will face things such as mental health issues and side effects.

“Prison decides when lights go on and when they go off,” Marieke Liem, a researcher at Harvard Kennedy School, said “Every moment of the day is scheduled. When you have been in the prison system the majority of your life, how can you be expected to function as a member of society? And make a plan?”

Upon release from prison, Johnson was handed an ID, documents outlining his criminal case history, $40 and two bus tickets. Having lost all family connections while serving his sentence, Johnson now relies on a nonprofit that provides housing and services to ex-prisoners in Harlem. NICRO is a nonprofit organisation in South Africa that provides a number of rehabilitation services, prison programmes and so much more. Do your part and contact NICRO to get help, or make a donation today!

Each day, he navigates the world as best as he can. He involves himself with a local mosque. He practices tai chi and meditates. He attempts to pursue his dream of opening up a shelter for women, though with his lack of credit history securing the funds for such a project has proven close to impossible. He walks the streets of New York, observing people around him. He returns to his nonprofit housing at 9pm each night, heeding his curfew.

With the current focus on reform, Johnson hopes that re-entry for ex-prisoners, including those having served for decades, will be streamlined to effectively address their needs. Whether freedom can prove liberating, rather than overwhelming, for those convicts who have grayed behind bars, remains to be seen.