Receiving the first taste of freedom after prison is bittersweet. In a new 30-minute documentary titled HOME/FREE, John Legend brings to light the downfall of the criminal justice system many individuals face after incarceration.
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According to the Equal Justice Initiative, 113 million American adults have a family member that has served time behind bars. The “All of Me” singer is one of them. Within the eye-opening film, Legend shares his personal story and explains how former intimates can only be considered entirely free once they are provided with proper resources to get back on their feet.
The documentary produced by Chad Campbell is based around three incarcerated individuals, who were recently released. While working closely with Rework Reentry, they were the lucky ones to score a job. However, this biopic clarifies that many are still jobless and homeless. In an exclusive interview with NPR, Legend said his family inspired him to speak out on the issue and demand change through art.
“I actually started thinking about this issue because of my sister’s baby’s father. He had gotten in trouble multiple times with the law. He had come from a family where multiple family members of his had gotten locked up, so it was kind of like a cycle that kept repeating,” he told NPR’s, Michel Martin. “I wanted my nephews to break that cycle, but part of breaking that cycle was him being able to work. And seeing how many barriers there were in front of that, he reached out to me and said, ‘John, you should look at this issue and think about it, see what you can do to help.'”
He continued to mention the obstacles many individuals face after leaving prison: voting, buying or renting a home, and chaperoning a school trip. While working on the project, he declared that storytelling became his superpower.
“Storytelling is very important when you’re trying to make change in the world. Part of the change has to be legislative, but at the bottom line, all these folks are human beings with individual stories, with emotional arcs and family members,” said Legend. “So, it’s important for people to really connect with human beings who are affected by this system and learn more about them. I think that’s a great way to change people’s hearts and minds.”
Despite the spike in crime in America, he believes the difficult conversation about reform needs to happen now, rather than later.
“There are all kinds of reasons people are concerned about safety. But we’re all better off when folks who have paid their debt to society [can] come home and contribute productively to society,” Legend explained. “If they can’t, then they end up with a recidivism problem. Because if they can’t contribute legitimately to the economy, then they’ll find illegitimate ways to do so, and that is not going to be safer, and it’s not going to be better for society,” he concluded.
The platinum-selling artist joined forces with FREEAMERICA, Next Chapter, Slack, and the Equal Justice Initiative to push his agenda and spark positive change. The emotional documentary is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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