Nonetheless Right here: A narrative of incarceration and gentrification within the US | USA

Girls are the fastest-growing imprisoned inhabitants in the US. Since 1980, the quantity has elevated by 750 p.c. In 2017, there have been extra than 225,060 girls in US prisons and jails. Eighty p.c of these had been moms and two-thirds had been girls of color. 

However what awaits the roughly two million American girls and women launched from prisons and jails annually? 

Based on the Jail Coverage Initiative, a US think-tank that researches the impact of mass criminalisation, most insurance policies and programmes for previously jailed individuals are nonetheless targeted on males. This, even supposing previously imprisoned girls – significantly girls of color – usually tend to expertise homelessness and unemployment and are much less more likely to have a highschool schooling than males who’ve been launched from jail or jail.

For a lot of, launch can imply coming into a brand new sort of confinement – a form of social jail the place they battle to beat the stigma of their previous incarceration and to seek out jobs, protected and inexpensive housing and to reconnect with household. About 60 p.c find yourself again in jail inside three years.

For these girls returning to communities reworked by gentrification – to neighbourhoods they scarcely recognise – the transition to life on the skin may be significantly troublesome.

Whereas gentrification occurs everywhere in the world, within the US it’s inextricably linked to incarceration: as mass incarceration locations disproportionate numbers of African American women and men behind bars, gentrification forces low-income folks of color from their properties, their communities, their neighbourhoods. Each feed a cycle of poverty, crime and racialised over-policing.

AJ Distinction, Al Jazeera’s immersive storytelling and media innovation studio, wished to discover the impact of incarceration and gentrification on girls of color within the US. The ensuing immersive multimedia mission referred to as Nonetheless Right here follows Jasmine Smith, a fictional character who returns house to Harlem, New York Metropolis after being locked up for 15 years. 

Nonetheless Right here premiered on the 2020 Sundance Movie Competition and includes three elements – interactive VR, audio with AR and a photograph gallery. 

How one can watch Nonetheless Right here: 

  • Interactive VR: Created for VR headsets, the 25-minute interactive movie about incarceration and re-entry follows Jasmine as she returns to her grandmother’s brownstone in Harlem.
  • Audio with AR: Optimised for iPad Professionals, the 18-minute story about gentrification is split into three chapters by which Jasmine interacts together with her uncle, a espresso store proprietor and a homeless particular person.
  • Photograph Gallery: The net gallery showcases the lives of the ladies whose tales knowledgeable the mission.

In Nonetheless Right here, the viewer is immersed in Jasmine’s world as she grapples with the truth of a neighborhood that not seems to be the identical and seeks to rebuild her life post-incarceration. 

Her narrative is predicated on the real-life experiences of previously imprisoned girls, a few of whom are a part of the Girls’s Jail Affiliation (WPA) advocacy group and who collaborated on the mission.

Listed here are a few of their tales:

Claude: ‘I used to be in jail longer than I used to be ever free’

Age when imprisoned: 19 | Age when launched: 44 | Sentence served: 25 years | 12 months of launch: 2017

Still Here - Claude in prison [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

A portrait of Claude six weeks earlier than her launch from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, New York, 2016 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

“I used to be in jail longer than I used to be ever free. I all the time hoped at the back of my thoughts that I’d win an enchantment or one thing, nevertheless it by no means occurred.

“I needed to resign [myself to being imprisoned] and dwell as a result of I used to be simply indignant and depressed for a very long time and tried to sleep the time away.”

Claude described the day in 2017 when she was launched as being like “a rebirth”. Her sister and nephew had been ready for her outdoors the jail.

“The sliding doorways opened. I walked by. I took a deep breath. I believed, ‘wow, that is actually taking place’. And I got here by the door and noticed my sister and my nephew and it was similar to, I am lastly house!”

That was three years in the past. Now she resides in Albany, New York, together with her boyfriend, Mark, whom she met when he was a civilian working within the jail in 1995. Claude hopes she’s going to quickly be “discharged from parole and at last be house free”.

One of many first issues she did after being launched was to get a makeover.

“When you had met my mother, God bless her, [Claude’s mother died while she was in prison] she all the time had nails. Even once I was house, I all the time bought my nails completed. After I bought incarcerated, I saved on doing my very own nails, my very own hair. Doing that was the one factor that acknowledged, ‘I’m a girl,’ as a result of every part concerning the jail was dehumanising, was to strip a girl of her womanhood. So popping out, I used to be wanting ahead to somebody pampering me.”

However not every part on the skin has been really easy.

Whereas Claude has been in a position to end her bachelor’s diploma since her launch and construct stronger bonds together with her household and pals, the toughest a part of life post-incarceration has been in search of a job.

“Society is not forgiving,” she explains. “Due to that, I am within the technique of beginning my very own enterprise instructing folks anger administration with the objective of … opening the doorways of employment alternatives for previously incarcerated people.” 

Still Here - Claude walking out the prison door [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Claude steps out of jail into the arms of her sister, 2017 [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Leah: ‘I used to be launched again right into a society that was unknown to me’

Age when imprisoned: 23 | Age when launched: 44 | Sentence served: 21 years | 12 months of launch: 2019

Still Here - Leah front stoop [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Leah outdoors her mom’s house within the Flatbush part of Brooklyn, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

“In July of 1997, on the age of 23, I used to be arrested for a murder. After being detained on Rikers Island for 3 years, I used to be convicted and sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of 21 years to life in jail.

“On January 15, 2019, after serving months shy of my 22nd-year mark, I used to be launched again right into a society that was unknown to me. 

“The place there was minimal know-how previous to me going to jail, I used to be thrown right into a world that exists on know-how. That in itself introduced enormous difficulties for me in my transition.”

Regardless of this, Leah ultimately discovered herself two jobs – one as a supervisor at an organization supplying eating places and one other working evenings and Sundays at a lately opened neighbourhood restaurant.

“I would like two jobs,” she explains. “The worth of residing is excessive.”

She resides together with her mom and the truth that she is ready to contribute financially in direction of the family is likely one of the accomplishments of which she is most proud. 

The realm by which she grew up and now lives together with her mom has modified rather a lot since she was imprisoned.

“After I lived right here it was Black/West Indian,” she says. “However now there are a variety of Caucasians within the space. There are a variety of new constructions being constructed. If I needed to dwell round right here alone, I could not afford it.”

The realm is just not all that has modified.

“As a lot as I want to, I’ll by no means be capable of change my previous, however I’ve allowed my previous to alter me,” Leah explains. “Immediately I realise that it’ll by no means be about me, however in my endeavours to do higher and be higher, I do know it begins with me.

“Immediately I make higher selections and I’ve higher methods to manage in any scenario with out resorting to violence. I’ve turn out to be a decent, accountable, selfless, compassionate, humbled and mature lady who’s all the time acutely aware of the folks I’ve damage and the harm I’ve completed.”

Still Here - Leah work [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Leah at work at a recently-opened neighbourhood restaurant, Brooklyn, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Tamanika: ‘I fought the system and received’

Age when imprisoned: 37 | Age when launched: 40 | Sentence served: Three years | 12 months of launch: 2017

Still Here - Tamanika transitional housing bedroom [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Tamanika holding a photograph she took of her bed room in her transitional housing, Lengthy Island Metropolis, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

“I’m the proud mom of 4 kids.”

When Tamanika was despatched to jail, three of her 4 kids had been put in foster care, whereas her oldest baby stayed together with her household.

“The court docket tried to terminate my parental rights however I fought exhausting and it did not occur,” she explains. “I had a beautiful staff of attorneys from Bronx Defenders [a non-profit that seeks to transform how low-income people from the Bronx are represented in the justice system]. My lawyer mentioned, ‘over my useless physique will I allow them to take your children.’ I informed her I solely thought they mentioned that within the films.”

After Tamanika was launched from jail, she first lived in a shelter within the Bronx for 2 weeks earlier than being transferred to a shelter in Decrease Manhattan that was run by the Girls’s Jail Affiliation. In April 2018, her son was returned to her care. Two months later, her daughters had been additionally returned to her.

“I am grateful to say that I fought the system and received. It has been an extended journey. We’ll lastly be transferring into our personal condominium quickly.”

Still Here - Tamanika and three of four children [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Tamanika with three of her 4 kids – Shania, 15, Taylor, 12, and Syncir, 19. Lengthy Island Metropolis, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Kamilah: ‘Are my issues that distinctive?’

Still Here - Kamilah and Jeyson waiting for the bus [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Kamilah together with her five-year-old son Jeyson ready for the bus after selecting him up from college in Bronx, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

“I grew up with my maternal grandparents, my mom, my uncle and his son. All of us lived in the identical family,” explains Kamilah of her childhood within the Bronx.

“My mother stayed house with me once I was younger and I used to be studying by the point I used to be two-and-a-half. I do assume extremely of books and I only recently bought myself a bookshelf at my house. It is nearly full.”

Kamilah now lives together with her five-year-old son and works as an affiliate producer at a hi-tech firm.

She had hoped to turn out to be a nurse however was dismissed from her nursing programme after she was arrested. She says her psychological well being suffered tremendously throughout this time however credit the WPA’s Justice Residence programme with altering her life.

“It allowed me to make use of my voice and struggles to create the change I wished to see,” she says, including: “It is essential to rehabilitate people that undergo from components associated to criminogenic danger. Taking punitive measures solely exacerbates the unlucky circumstances.”

Though issues have been going nicely for Kamilah since she was launched, there are nonetheless challenges.

“Though I’ve the abilities and instruments mandatory to achieve success within the company world, there are nonetheless a variety of limitations, like having lack of entry to sources,” she explains. “I am a single mum or dad, I am pregnant, and my commute is troublesome daily.

“Are my issues that distinctive?” she asks. “Do most individuals have a greater assist system than me?”

Of her childhood house within the Bronx, she displays: “I am beginning to see indicators of gentrification. There’s rather a lot much less inexpensive housing.”

Still Here - Kamilah at home [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Kamilah at house, Morris Park, Bronx, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Elaine: ‘A level and metropolis job didn’t insulate me from being wrongfully accused’

Still Here - Elaine and daughter in park [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Elaine and daughter, Elaine Jr, in a park, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Elaine’s husband is serving a 45-year sentence in a state jail in Connecticut. He was arrested in 2016 and, Elaine explains, as a result of their Islamic marriage was not recognised by the state, they don’t have any marital privileges.

“In consequence, I used to be charged as a co-defendant moderately than recognised as a partner he has confided in.”

“A Bachelor’s diploma and metropolis job didn’t insulate me from being wrongfully accused and responsible by affiliation,” she says. “My grandmother bailed me out after 4 days of not figuring out the place I used to be as a result of I by no means acquired my one telephone name.”

“After three years of preventing for my freedom, I plead responsible through the Alford doctrine to hindering prosecution within the second diploma in order that I may very well be house with my three-year-old daughter.”

She now sofa surfs due to the stigma related to renting to a felon and since she doesn’t need to put her grandparents prone to eviction.

“Any change in employment, housing or journey outdoors of the 5 boroughs [of New York City] have to be permitted by my probation officer,” she says. “Going to Palisades Mall on a whim is out of the query or every other household enjoyable weekend actions that aren’t permitted 30 to 90 days upfront.”

Elaine speaks to her husband 3 times per week. “Cellphone calls are restricted to 15 minutes. Every name prices $4,” she explains.

However she can’t go to him as she wouldn’t go the mandatory background verify on account of getting been arrested herself. In consequence, another person from the household should take her daughter, Elaine Jr, to go to her father. She has “seen her father seven instances in her life”.

Evelyn: ‘It seems like I am paying for my freedom’

Age when imprisoned: 18 | Age when launched: 36

Still Here - Evelyn executive chef  [Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

Evelyn is now an govt chef in Lengthy Island Metropolis, New York, 2019 [File: Sara Bennett/Al Jazeera]

“I had a variety of trials and tribulations coming house to New York Metropolis,” says Evelyn of her launch. “I used to be on my own as a result of my household was in Puerto Rico.”

However she managed to get a grant and joined a culinary programme. “I prepare dinner like my grandma. That is the most effective teacher you possibly can have. All the things she cooked was pure.”

Now, she is an govt chef. “The job comes with a bit of little bit of stress,” she says, “however I am pleased with myself to see the function I am in.”

“I’ve a spouse, household, condominium,” Evelyn explains. “And my life continues. I am on a roll, all the time in search of betterment in my life.”

“While you’re on parole, it’s important to pay a payment. I do not know what it is for. It seems like I am paying for my freedom … I’ve to pay $30 a month, which is the utmost. I have been paying from the very starting.”  

For extra details about the mission, go to: For directions on find out how to watch it, go to the “Watch Nonetheless Right here” web page.

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