Becoming Free Open Access
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This multimedia thesis is about the experiences of young people of color who are returning home from prison. In the era of mass incarceration, millions cycle through America’s jails and prisons annually. Nearly half of those behind bars in Washington, D.C., are under 30 years old, and 95% are African-American or Hispanic. Each year, thousands return to the District of Columbia to face intense challenges: finding housing and employment, rebuilding relationships, facing the stigma of a felony record, and navigating parole requirements. The non-profit organization Changing Perceptions is helping young adults in reentry break the cycle of street life, violence and incarceration by building community and fostering entrepreneurship. Throughout the project, subjects were invited to collaborate in different ways. Will Avila, a returning citizen and small business owner who co-founded Changing Perceptions, was re-incarcerated for a technical parole violation in 2016 and chose to serve the remaining 12 months of his sentence so he could be off parole upon his release in June 2017. While in the D.C. Jail, Will recounted some of the places and experiences that have shaped his journey, and I responded through photographs. Through the resulting collaborative photography and poetry exhibition, a short documentary film, and a community outreach effort, Becoming Free explores intimately the realities for those reentering society after spending years behind bars during the critical transition from youth to adulthood.