Otis Johnson was imprisoned at the age of 25 in the year 1975 after being charged for attempted murder of a police officer; he was released only in August of 2014, after 44 years in prison, during which time he had absolutely no contact with the outer world. When, at the age of 69, he was finally released from jail, he was thrust into a world that was drastically different from the one he was familiar with and the one he had left behind 44 years ago.
“Being in society is a really good feeling… it’s nice.” His sentence, which was meant to end earlier, was extended by eight months for a juvenile shoplifting charge he had received at the age of 17.
His re-introduction into society, however, brought with it a lot of surprises. In an Al Jazeera video feature, Johnson expresses his surprise and astonishment at the multitudinous people swarming the streets, not looking where they are going, and, more often than not, with wires in their ears and blank faces, looking, according to him, like “the CIA or agents or some stuff like that.”
Says Johnson, “I got off at Times Square and I was looking at the atmosphere, the new things that was happening…” These changes are astonishing to him, and his reactions are priceless. He scouts supermarket aisles, looking at “all the crazy stuff they’ve got… the funny dinners; different coloured drinks” – they are all, to him, entirely new and overwhelming.