For men and women who have committed crimes, the biggest challenge often isn’t being incarcerated—it’s dealing with ongoing perceptions that they are, because of their past, forever tagged as “criminal” and subjected to a status that is somewhat less than human. Long after their formal punishment has been served, many of these former prisoners must continue to fight the judgments of others as they seek to provide for themselves, their families, and to reintegrate back into their communities.
In response to this ongoing stigmatization of those who have “had a touch with the criminal justice system,” Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) in Chicago has launched the “I Am Somebody” photo exhibit, which seeks to emphasize the humanity of these people, highlighting the many ways those depicted are just like everyone else, with hopes and dreams for the future, and not dwelling on the past.
The subjects of the project were photographed while listening to music of their choosing, in an attempt to better display their personalities. As the broad smiles attest, the participants were thrilled to be able to express who they were, free from the stigma of being viewed merely as a criminal.
“I’m loving this!” one participant, Sontcera McWilliams, proclaims in the above video. “I got a photoshoot on my birthday! You just don’t know how I feel right now—this is love!”
“That’s what this is about,” says Gretchen Slusser, executive director of CGLA. It’s about music. “It’s the idea of getting your picture taken. It’s your hopes and your dreams to make a difference in this world. All too often we just believe that the folks we choose to judge don’t have those things in common with us.”
The Second Prison Project is a new program created by Prison Fellowship, focused on highlighting the potential in the men and women with criminal records. Through acts of service locally, advocacy for policies that will enable former prisoners to be better employees and citizens, and promoting leadership opportunities for former prisoners, the Second Prison Project seeks to establish a movement where these men and women are empowered and freed to reach their greatest potential. To find out more, visit the Second Prison Project Facebook page.