After seeing automatic shoelaces in Back to the Future Part II and a microwave that cooks food in a matter of a second in Spy Kids, it seems as if the world is developing at the rate of a melting glacier. But, when Otis Johnson was released from prison after forty-four years, it was as if he stepped into another dimension. Otis Johnson was arrested at a relatively young age of twenty-five for assaulting and attempting to murder a police officer; he was released with $40, an ID, two bus tickets, and documents on his criminal case history.
Upon his release, he was followed by Al Jazeera’s camera men and documented his foray into the 21st century. He was shocked by the amount of technology that is a an integral part of the world today. “What? Everybody became…CIA, or agents, and stuff like that?” Otis asked himself upon seeing people talking into their earbuds, or as Johnson calls them “wires”, and walking around while staring at their phones. In the documentary, it shows how Johnson struggles with using the technology of today, like using a fare card to pass through the turnstile at the subway. Johnson was also quick to observe the effect of cell phones on society and pointed out how expensive it has gotten to make a call through the public payphones. Laughing, he remarks, “I found out when I got out on the streets, they don’t use these.”
Things take a turn in his tone when Johnson starts talking about his family. While being in jail for so long, he lost all communication with his loved ones around 1998. He stated that it “bothers me a lot because I really, you know, I really miss my family.” With loving memories of his nieces, Johnson reminisces about the good times he had with his family and talks about how he loves kids.
After the heartfelt talk about his family and his life in prison, he later visits the grocery store. He jokes about how hard it is for him to make a decision with all the crazy options he has to choose from. Due to all of all the new food choices he is discovering, he is eating different things now. For example, the “different colored drinks” he refers to as the “gator stuff”. He tries different stuff now because it “just looks funny.” The peanut butter with jelly swirled in perplexed Otis, but he looks right next to the snazzy innovation and smiles. “Still here, 1960’s Skippy’s still around,” he claims.
Even after serving forty-four years in jail, Otis feels no anger towards anyone and does not believe that “society owes [him] anything.” He explains that holding on to resentment will only keep him from growing as a person. By accepting his mistakes and moving forward, he enjoys his new freedom. “That’s how I survive in society,” he finishes off saying.
Today, Otis Johnson resides and works with Fortune Society, a non-profit organization that helps those who come out of prison adjust their re-entry to society. They also promote alternatives to incarceration. Hear the full story of Otis Johnson on Al-Jazeera.