“Returning Citizens” All the bitterness of the position of these people is reflected in the straightforwardness of this definition. They return from exile when the state did not consider them citizens. While they were behind bars, these people were disintegrated from the social life. Now they come back and have to become normal citizens again. But did it come down? This documentary captures their second chance.

At the forefront of incarceration

We have to strain our imagination to accept that the country, one of the most developed, propagandizing democracy, persistently defending the rights of people around the world, is also at the forefront of incarceration. Its level in the US makes us think that the problem raised by the documentary director is far from being a mere verbal issue. It’s about more than two million people in prisons at the moment who must once join the 65 million who have already served their term and have to survive with their criminal record.

In fact, this provision has led to the fact that even die-hard opponents on the American political arena today agree that too many people are behind bars. Today’s incarceration levels do little to deter crime while they do much to rip up families, increase racial disparities and destroy lives.

Why is it so ‘bad’? Convicted felons in D.C. spend their sentence in federal prisons, often hours away from home. Incarceration creates people who have adapted to isolated lives on the edge of desperation with a bunch of restrictions and no trust at all. The implications of these psychological effects are essential for the family institute and parenting. People, whose life has been controlled by rules and guards for several years, come out from behind the bars and remember that they are parents. Their life has been maimed by an exploitative and harsh prison life. It shook their self-esteem and turned their values system upside down. The society expects that ex-prisoners will come out and be able to effectively organize the lives of their children. Again they will be able to build close interpersonal relationships. But are they really capable of this?

In order to truly reform the criminal justice system, we must first humanize the individuals who are affected by it and let them have a say in the solution. – Filmmakers’ statement from official website.

Return to freeworld community

Documentary ‘Returning citizens’ has collected stories of different singles who have passed the way from isolation behind the bars to challenging revival as citizens. As the filmmakers themselves say, “a passionate group of individuals who are looking for a second chance – or perhaps a chance they never had to begin with”.

The action concerned conditions in Washington, DC. It matters since this area represents a poor African American community ”where virtually every individual – from the local radio DJ to a programming director for the Mayor’s office – has had some contact with the criminal justice system”. This film is like a diary with stories of people who are so close-knit not only as neighbors, but as doomed to the same misfortune.

I hope when people see this film, it does offer a humanizing perspective on these people. – filmmaker Saffron Cassaday who directed Returning Citizens.

The documentary  is woven from appeals to system changes. It gives hope through the examples of those who coped. But its main goal is to give a concrete answer to the question of how and who can change this disastrous situation.

As it should be for the diary, “Returning Citizens” opens the veil into something personal, intimate, voicing memories and impressions of those who fell victim to the criminal justice system.

Voice of female incarceration

Federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency state that as of late 2016, slightly less than 200 women from D.C. served sentences in federal prisons. According to the nonprofit Sentencing Project, the lion’s share of imprisoned women is young mothers. Imagine what a challenge a woman is going through, when after years of isolation and social withdrawal, she becomes a parent of children who grew up without her.

Lashonia Thomson-El is one of the documentary’s subjects. She crossed the threshold of the prison cell when she was only 19 years old, and was released only 18 years later.


By the time she was accused of a double homicide, Lashonia was the mother of two children. While she was serving her sentence in prison, her sister was taking care of her little children. But when Thompson-El was released, it became her duty. But was she ready to take responsibility for someone else? And more importantly. Could 37-year-old Lashonia bring up children who were at the same age when she was sent to jail? This is what the heroine is trying to tell on the screen.

I really thought we would be rebuilding a relationship. But I found out that there was nothing to rebuild. We were actually starting from scratch. I used to call it a family reunification process, but I think it’s actually a family unification process.

The authors of the film did not focus their attention on the gender peculiarities of American incarceration, but the stories on the screen show that the woman’s return to society has its complications.

Utopia of social reunion

A documentary film in a review style follows the tests that the former had to pass. Elderly people are looking for work. Young parents are also looking for affordable housing. This is without mentioning the attitude of society and relatives to them after their return.

The director expects that question about why we need to worry about criminals and help them will drop away by itself after viewing. “The reason is they’re coming out no matter what. Whether you like it or not, they are coming out.”

My hope is that by watching a film like this, people would start to think more about these issues,” Cassaday, filmmaker, said.

Therefore, D.C. officials and residents should make a hand to ensure that former inmates return from prison better off than when they went in.

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