Last week I participated in a panel discussion following the screening of a film called Evolution of a Criminal, by Darius Clark Monroe. The film was a self-made documentary about Darius Clark’s decision to rob a bank where he held several of its customers at gunpoint, and it tracks his life as an aspiring filmmaker as he confronts his criminal past, faces the victims of the robbery, and comes face to face with resentment, forgiveness, redemption and uncertainty. I thought it was a compelling, heart wrenching film.
As I said to the audience members after watching Evolution of a Criminal, several things resonated with me. When Darius was first in school, he never told his professors that he had a criminal background, but once he began production on the documentary, he decided to tell some of his most esteemed instructors that he had served time in prison for bank robbery.
See the Trailer: Evolution of a Criminal
Darius documented the responses of these select professors. One of them said that she was glad that she did not know Darius’s background while he was a student in her class. She was certain that she would have looked at him differently. Another was so stunned that she refused to say what she would have thought had she known that the bright, articulate, respectful young man was a convicted felon. She stumbled with her words, and said, “I’m just shocked.”
I often speak openly about my past throughout the District of Columbia. I speak to various audiences on the subject of incarceration and reentry, and my life has been publicized in the local media. Nevertheless, I have never disclosed my status at my own school. I have never shared with any of my classmates, or professors that I am a convicted felon who spent 18 years in prison.
I have a fear that I will be judged. I don’t want my professors to look at me differently. I want them to see me as the intelligent, articulate, respectful woman that I am rather than bringing pre-conceived notions about Returning Citizens into our relationships.
I’m afraid that some of my professors may be indifferent toward me, and some might be outright displeased. So, I sit in class pretending to be normal, while having the time of my life. I have something to say about almost every subject, and I’m always the first to raise my hand and participate in class discussions (except when I’m in math class). I suck in math. Otherwise I love learning and college has been truly rewarding. It’s a healthy distraction from all of the emotional drama that reentry carries. It’s a blessing.