In Transition: from prison to community

Editor's note: The following documentary short was produced by the fellows of the Northwest Institute for Social Change. It's the third of three we'll post here at BlueOregon. Learn more about NWISC through this short interview with founder Phil Busse or visit

Made by 2008 Northwest Institute for Social Change fellows, this short video documentary follows Carl, an ex-prisoner, as he looks for a job. Through his life, we see what programs the city of Portland has to facilitate the transition from prison to community. This issue becomes increasingly important as the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and more prisoners are leaving jail each day. To learn more about the Northwest Institute for Social Change, visit

  • meg (unverified)

    Phil, I have 2 small kids at home. I think I will get my roof done by some other guys.


  • (Show?)

    Hey meg, I smell stigma. It is attitudes like that that help perpetuate the cycle of recidivism. If we begin to tell released prisoners that they have served their time and that they are welcome back in society, they may be less likely to be repeat offenders. Shame that you have such a narrow view of prisoners.

  • mlw (unverified)

    Mixed feelings on this - they deserve some stigma for having committed serious crimes, but we're all better served as a society when they receive re-entry programs and employment. As for employment bias, it's certainly there, some of it legitimate, some of it not. I've known lots of extremely hard working ex-cons - after all, they know where they're likely to end up if they don't work hard. On the other hand, I've known even more that have never worked and have no intention of ever earning an honest living.

    To me, this emphasizes the importance of good transitions. Guys who can get set up with a job while living in a halfway house and develop a good work history will be more invested in going straight. Unfortunately, we don't do much of this in Oregon, preferring expensive higher security prisons in remote locations where there's little opportunity for reintegration.

    One note - prisoners in Oregon are generally required to work while incarcerated. It may or may not be a marketable job on the outside, but the clip doesn't acknowledge that this does contribute to future employment prospects.

  • Idler (unverified)

    I guess if Meg were more enlightened she would hire ex-cons to babysit her kids. Leinad gives us classic bleeding heart perversity: you should expose innocent children to risk in order benefit convicts.

    It's like the old joke when the two liberals walking down the street find a man who has been mugged, lying in the ditch, beaten within an inch of his life. The first liberal says, "We need to find who did this!" The second echoes the sentiment: "Yes we do: he needs help!"

    I have no objection to a cost/benefit discussion about "transitioning" convicts one way or another. However, I'd like to be spared the sob story.

    My heart bleed for the victims of crime, not the perpetrators. Of course the video finds the most inoffensive of offenders (although we really don't know the specifics of Carl's conviction, to say nothing of his entire personal history). Carl is quoted saying:

    "In reality, we're not bad people, we just made bad choices in our lives."

    What does this mean? That one is never responsible for what one does? It wasn't me, it was those danged choices that did it! To be charitable, let's imagine it means, "I don't happen to be a bad person, those these exist. I happened to make a couple of bad choices before I wised up and realized this just isn't me."

    That may be true in Carl's case. On the other hand, he might just be a decent liar. Ending up in jail doesn't exactly boost someone's credibility (Oops! does that smell of stigma!) In any case, it's a preposterous generalization for ex-cons.

    The opposite of stigma is whitewash, and that's what this video tends to do. Should we wish for the reformation and re-integration of convicts into society? Of course. Should we, on a personal level, be willing to take small steps and even calculated risks to help people who have ended up in prison? Certainly, as long as we use good judgment. However, the video seems to characterize conviction and imprisonment as some kind of ill fortune caused by an agency other than the convicts themselves. The video's insinuation is that the increasing prison population is a result of this external force rather than being an index of more antisocial people committing crimes and rightly being put in jail.

    <h2>Yes, some crimes don't merit jail time, Yes, there are wrongful convictions, but when there is more lawlessness,and we should be thankful that law enforcement people do the dangerous job of catching the offenders and that the judicial system puts many of them beind bars.</h2>
guest column

connect with blueoregon