Should ex-convicts be the next stars of reality TV?

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John Boy Watts, producer and creator; 'Life After Prison'

John Boy Watts, producer and creator; 'Life After Prison'

“People are going to see about what happens when there’s a lack of opportunity in the community,” Freeway Ricky Ross observes about Ice-T’s new reality series, Life After Prison. “Cause people are going to eat. If they’re hungry, they’re going to find a way to eat.”

Incarcerated for years, far removed from society, the road ahead for ex-convicts in a world that stamps them as inferior will soon be documented on television.

Life After Prison, a new reality series executive produced by Ice-T and produced by John Boy Watts, a former inmate and conman, aims to shed light on the prison cycle, and break patterns of detainment by creating a house where felons can get back on their feet.

Set in Los Angeles, the show will put a handful of former prisoners into a house together Real World-style, where they will rebuild their lives with the help of mentors like Watts and Ross, and a live-in therapist from Beverly Hills.

“Right now, America needs somebody with substance,” Ross, one of the biggest drug traffickers in U.S. history, tells theGrio. “For them to see somebody that has been through as many things as I’ve been through, that’s willing to share my learning with others so that they can benefit, I think that’s amazing. That’s what this country needs as a whole.”

A chance for the disenfranchised

Ross spent 13 years behind bars for masterminding a large-scale narcotics trade that had him earning $3 million dollars a day at one point in time.

Along with Watts, who served 9 years in prison for defrauding the U.S. Medicare program, the two intend to prove that what society deems rotten can actually blossom with good care.

Both have become mentors and public speakers after completing their time, and have their hand in several creative projects.

“Showing a different light, showing that we can bring a bunch of people together that people turn their back on to give them a second or third chance, I think it will get them to believe in themselves again,” says Watts. “We believe that there’s always a way if you make a way. If you get up every day and make that difference for yourself.”

Adds Ross, while time has passed, circumstances have not necessarily improved.

Intense economic gaps contribute to an extended mobility deficit for those with a prison stamp on their slate.

“When I started selling drugs, the economy was really similar to this right here,” he explains. “There’s no jobs, people didn’t know what they were going to do. Right now, unemployment is skyrocketing and I’m out here on the streets so I know what the community is going through. Our community is hurting.”

Checking the felony box

Unlike many reality shows, Life After Prison focuses on the have-nots of society.

Though it’s still in development, the cast of characters is made up of real people who have committed tragic crimes, and don’t have the luxury to philander their lives for attention.

They have no money or steady job to help push them along, no bank account or assets.

Furthermore, they have a record attached to their resume and parole officer checking their every move.

“To this day, I look at it like I should be in prison for the rest of my life or I should be resting in peace,” Alfredo Barrios, a member of the cast, tells theGrio.

Barrios, 39, served 15 years in prison for a rap sheet that includes homicide, home invasion robbery, and five counts of attempted murder.

He narrowly evaded the death penalty, and used the second chance at life to reform his ways.

Less than a year out of prison, he now works as a steam cleaner and started his own business using hip-hop study and merchandising to educate youth.

“Before I was released from prison, I used to see many people come in and out, the same individuals,” Barrios recalls. “They would make excuses, saying ‘There’s no jobs, nobody would hire me.’ So I want to give guys who are coming out a reason to say there is something out there after prison. There is a way to make it.”

Admittedly, the justice system proved a buffer to Barrios’ criminal tendencies, and offered a similar shield for fellow castmate Jayreisha Rasberry.

Rasberry, 26, went to prison for six years on an armed robbery conviction.

A year following her release, she says the most difficult aspect of being a felon is the box she has to check on paperwork.

“I’m a number,” she remarks to theGrio. “I’m not even who I am. I’m X24399 and that number will forever stick with me. It’s real traumatizing and people don’t understand that…We’re not animals.”