Popular Culture

This Man Spent 44 Years In Prison, Reacts To The Modern World With Sensitivity and Awe


How would you feel if you were cut off from the modern world for over four decades, and re-entered society only to find people walking around talking to themselves, vivid screens in every shop window, and jars of peanut butter and jelly swirled together? Ex-convict Otis Johnson knows, and through his eyes, the 21st century does look weird, and awfully futuristic.

The video above is narrated by Otis Johnson, and he tells his story: he was sent to prison for attempted murder—for assaulting a police officer. His re-entry into society was difficult for him at first, but he has found solace in meditation and people-watching. But it’s the things he’s noticed about those people that are particularly striking.

Johnson describes how he witnesses people with wires coming out of their ears, walking and talking to people through their headsets as if they were all CIA agents, and looking at their phones as they cross the streets, awed at the fact that they don’t seem to need to look at where they’re going. Sound familiar?

It’s also the technology that astounds him: bright screens from every window advertising something or other (although, he does visit Times Square a lot, so he may be getting a skewed sample). It’s also the food: swirled jars of peanut butter and jelly together, “funny dinners,” and frozen cinnamon butter french toast. None of this stuff was available to Johnson in the late 60s/early 70s, and to him, the modern world may as well be a different planet.

Through Johnson’s eyes, we see the things that we’ve taken for granted, and the stark differences between our culture and the culture of decades past. We all know that people are addicted to technology nowadays; that’s obvious. But hearing it narrated by someone seeing it all for the first time drives the point home that we’re resembling machines more than we ever have before, with “wires in our ears” all the time.

The video also calls to attention the difficulty many convicted felons face trying to re-enter society, and has raised questions as to what could be improved upon so that those re-entering society are better taken care of. Otis Johnson was given $40, two bus tickets, an ID, and documents outlining his criminal background. He is doing well, but he has lost touch with his family and is largely alone. We can only hope that Otis Johnson continues to adjust well to his brand new world.

Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.

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