By Frances Mcginley, 2017-2018 Work First Fellow
On Thursday, September 21st, eBay hosted a screening of the film Life After Life at their San Jose headquarters. Life After Life features the stories of three men who served long-term sentences at San Quentin prison. The film begins while they are still in prison and follows them for 10 years post-release. Their stories shed light on the different barriers that formerly incarcerated people face when they finish their sentences including rebuilding their families, trying to get back to work or school, and the psychological shock of transitioning from prison to the outside world. Two of the characters were able to rebuild their lives, but one of the men ended up going back to San Quentin for a similar charge within a year. The film earnestly depicted the successes and failures of the reentry population and sheds light on why so many people return to prison shortly after release.
The two men in the film who were able to successfully transition from prison to the outside world attended the screening and stayed for a panel discussion. The additional individuals on the panel included two other men who served life sentences, a prison rights lawyer, an America Works employee, and a teacher from the Prison University Project. One of the men present was Marvin Mutch. After serving 61 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, his case was taken by The Innocence Project and he was released. While in San Quentin, Marvin advocated for better prison conditions and has continued to do so since his release. His story is a heart-wrenching example of the ways the criminal system can fail to deliver justice. His full story is detailed in a podcast series by KQED. While their backgrounds and stories were very different, all of the panel guests agreed that rehabilitation needs to start in the prison and continue after release in order to create generate better outcomes for former inmates. A major determinant of success upon release is the offender’s ability to obtain employment. The America Works employee on the panel stressed how important it is that companies like eBay consider hiring more people with criminal backgrounds.
After the event, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the guests who were eBay employees. One of the individuals explained that he had just been planning to stop by for a few minutes before going to watch a football game. However, he had been so moved by what he was watching that he ended up staying for the entire two hours of the event. He said the film changed his perspective of “who a felon is” and he now wants to figure out more ways to get involved. Films like Life After Life not only inspire empathy in viewers but motivates them to push for criminal justice reforms that will create a more equitable society for everyone.