The Return

PBS Premiere: May 23, 2016Check the broadcast schedule »

Film Update

In May 2016, The Return filmmakers Kelly Duane De La Vega and Katie Galloway updated POV on what's happened since the camera stopped rolling.

What has happened in the lives of Kenneth and Bilal since the end of the film?

Kenneth stayed at The Amity Foundation for about 6 months. He then transitioned to live with with extended family in Englewood, CA. He has a new job now, and is still in touch with Monica and his children, but continues to struggle from the scars of institutionalization. We keep in touch, and are rooting for him. He saw the film and liked it - felt it was authentic.

Bilal works two jobs, and has been promoted several times at both. He is now Supervisor at both -- one a major sports team and one a campus with 29 employees (perhaps more by now) who he oversees. He got married, and has traveled throughout the United States with the film. He has been featured on John Oliver's Last Week Tonight and has visited the White House and Capitol Hill to talk about the need for re-entry support for the 650,000+ who return from prison each year. He is an inspiration to our team and almost everyone he meets along the campaign trail. We see a potential speaking career in his future -- including as a member of The Return Project -- which will do nationwide in prison, university and business screenings in 2016 and 2017.

What has happened in the work of the attorneys of the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project since the end of the film?

Over 500 inmates eligible for Prop. 36 relief and serving Three Strikes sentences for minor, nonviolent crimes remain behind bars and Mike, Susan and their team of students are continuing to work on those cases. They also continue to support and advocate for criminal justice reform on the state and federal level. They worked with Californians for Safety and Justice pass Prop. 47 -- which shortens sentences for minor drug and property crimes, eliminates felony convictions for some and redirects savings to reentry services, mental health treatment, and K-12 ed. They authored a new legislation in CA -- AB 2262 -- designed to provide treatment instead of incarceration for mentally ill offenders -- which is currently working its way through the political process. And they are working with the White House to support prisoners released by executive clemency. They are amazing.

In what ways have you seen or do you hope to see The Return add to conversations about the US justice system, prison reform and reentry in the US?

There is rare bi-partisan support in Washington for some aspects of sentencing reform. There is potential for historic criminal justice reform not seen in decades with politicians and everyday people seeming to increasingly wake up to the horrors of mass incarceration and the need for change. We hope The Return will help catalyze this change by humanizing those populations most affected by draconian laws - the poor, the mentally ill and people of color. More than 70 million Americans have an arrest or conviction record and nearly half of those who successfully complete their sentences wind up back in prison, very often from a lack of employment options available to those with criminal records. There are more than 650,000 citizens released from prison each year and, considering the increased momentum for state and federal sentencing reforms, these numbers are likely to increase. So it is crucial that we seriously engage the conversation around reform -- specifically reentry support. We hope the The Return campaign will inspire people to take action that will help strengthen such support and increase employment opportunities for returnees, as well as educate viewers about upcoming federal reforms like Second Chance Reauthorization Act, REDEEM Act, and the Sentencing and Corrections Act. The campaign will call on employers to take the Fair Chance Business Pledge.

What additional conversations do you hope the film will spark, especially leading up to this year's elections?

The ongoing problems of racial disparities in punishment, the collateral damage to families and communities, the deep inhumanity of criminalizing mental illness and drug addiction - things that should be death with from a public health and social services rather than law and order approaches. Above all else we are focused on increasing understanding of the barriers / obstacles to success the formerly incarcerated face that are so unfair and counterproductive, and the corresponding lack of meaningful reentry support. We spend SO much incarcerating and so little helping people reintegrate - why? And we are focused on increasing pathways to employment for the formerly incarcerated -- so that will be a big focus of the campaign in 2016. Finally -- we have a big in-prison screening tour scheduled with Bilal Chatman coming for Q&As. The value of this enterprise cannot be overstated. The first few such screenings we've done have been breathtaking and so important.

What are you working on next?

Katie Galloway is in post production on The Pushouts, which examines the roots of America's "dropout" crisis through the lens of Victor Rios - a formerly incarcerated gang member & celebrated sociologist / expert on the school-to-prison-pipeline. Through the lives of Rios, his mentors and his proteges over 25 years, The Pushouts is a personal and political exploration of race, class, coming of age against a backdrop of criminalization and the power of culturally relatable mentorship.

Kelly Duane de la Vega is currently in production on a series of shorts about how class, race, and the supreme court impact how we vote in America.