Skip to main content

After 44 years in prison, this ex-inmate entered a world completely changed by technology

prison
Image used with permission by copyright holder
He was removed from society in 1975, and when he returned, Otis Johnson entered a whole new world. A testament to the notion that time waits for no one (and has perhaps accelerated in the last few decades), Johnson’s release from prison was much more than a reintroduction to civilization — it was an introduction to the digital age.

My Life After 44 Years In Prison

Convicted of attempted murder more than four decades ago, Johnson had been incarcerated for 44 years by the time of his release in August 2014. And while rehabilitation for ex-prisoners tends to pose a challenge, nothing could have prepared Johnson for the 21st century.

When Johnson began his lengthy sentence in 1975, the first personal computer had just made an appearance as a kit. Apple had not yet been founded, there were just three major television channels, and the Internet was still several years away from its invention.

When Johnson returned to the world in 2014, cell phones were ubiquitous devices, cars could be driven sans human interaction, and t-shirts could monitor blood pressure.

Johnson’s shock at his foreign environment was captured in an interview with Al Jazeera America, in which the now 69-year-old relates his experiences as a veritable exile from technological progress over the last several decades. Upon his first visit to Times Square, he expresses his confusion at the automatons walking quickly with wires in their ears, all apparently talking to themselves.

It’s an interesting commentary on the effects of technology on not only human behavior, but humanity as a whole. As the rest of the country reaped the (supposed) benefits of technology and innovation, a proportion of our citizenry was left entirely in the dust, impacted by the ravages of time, but privy to none of its advantages.

Every year, a small percentage of prisoners are released who have not seen the rest of the world in two decades or more, and as Al Jazeera reports, “from 1999 to 2014, the number of state and federal prisoners aged 55 and older grew by 250 percent.” As of 2014, inmates over the age of 55 account for 10 percent of the total prison population.

As these inmates near the end of their sentences, there are few resources available to prepare them for what lies beyond. When Johnson was released, he received an ID, his criminal history record, two bus tickets, and $40. None of that could possibly prove useful in navigating a society that has so drastically changed from the one he left so many years ago.

The remarkable bounds technology has made in the last few decades is all but unbelievable, and while living through change allows for some semblance of adaptation, former inmates become prisoners of a new breed, trapped by a changed world. And it’s a world that seems to have neither the patience nor the space for the unfamiliar.

Of course, it isn’t just technology that makes life after prison difficult for ex-inmates. “Prison decides when lights go on and when they go off,” Marieke Liem, a researcher at Harvard Kennedy School, told Al Jazeera. “Every moment of the day is scheduled. When you have been in the prison system the majority of your life, how can you be expected to function as a member of society?”

Prison reform has become a major issue in the last few years, and while a solution is still far from viable, continued efforts in the political arena may ultimately prove useful in helping individuals like Otis Johnson create a life post-incarceration.

“It’s not too late,” said President Obama. “There are people who have gone through tough times, they’ve made mistakes, but with a little bit of help, they can get on the right path.”

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more
This bracelet helps you fall asleep faster and sleep longer
woman-in-bed-wearing-twilight-apollo-on-ankle

This content was produced in partnership with Apollo Neuroscience.
Have you been struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep? It's always frustrating when you get in bed at a reasonable time, then toss and turn for a hours before you actually sleep. The quality of that sleep is important too. If you're waking up multiple times during the night, you're likely not getting the quality REM cycle sleep that truly rejuvenates your body. If traditional remedies like herbal teas and noise machines just aren't helping, maybe it's time to try a modern solution. Enter the Apollo wearable.

Now we understand being a little skeptical. How can a bracelet on your wrist or ankle affect your sleep patterns? Certainly the answer to a better night's sleep can't be so simple. We considered these same things when we first heard of it. We'll dive deeper into the science behind the Apollo wearable, but suffice it to say that many people have experienced deeper, uninterrupted sleep while wearing one.
A non-conventional approach to better sleep

Read more
The 11 best Father’s Day deals that you can get for Sunday
Data from a workout showing on the screen of the Apple Watch Series 8.

Father's Day is fast approaching and there's still time to buy your beloved Dad a sweet new device to show him how much you love him. That's why we've rounded up the ten best Father's Day tech deals going on right now. There's something for most budgets here, including if you're able to spend a lot on your loved one. Read on while we take you through the highlights and remember to order fast so you don't miss out on the big day.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 -- $200, was $230

While it's the Plus version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 that features in our look at the best tablets, the standard variety is still worth checking out. Saving your Dad the need to dig out their laptop or squint at a small phone screen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 offers a large 10.5-inch LCD display and all the useful features you would expect. 128GB of storage means plenty of room for all your Dad's favorite apps as well as games too. A long-lasting battery and fast charging save him the need for a power source too often too.

Read more