“I just feel constantly suffocating. I feel trapped. There are a lot of times I want to go hiking or just go camping. I don’t want to go because I know they’re going to follow me there. You know what I mean? I go to work grudgingly because I don’t want to be followed around all day and I keep it strict to what I do – work, meetings, sometimes I go to the gym, but they’re always there too. Like I said, I got footage of all this, but it’s just been a real big barrier, I just feel really stuck and trapped.”

Reimagine Arkansas partnership with Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition






Region (NW Arkansas)
The following contains interactive audio elements.
How to Listen:

Move your cursor over the underlined, highlighted words and click to hear that particular piece of audio and to read the broader context of the speaker’s quote.

How to Listen:

Move your cursor over the underlined, highlighted words and click to hear that particular piece of audio and to read the broader context of the speaker’s quote.

Whatever our color, background or zip code, most of us believe in second chances ☊.


But for formerly incarcerated residents of Northwest Arkansas who have owned their mistakes ☊, paid their dues ☊, become sober ☊ and changed their whole lives around ☊, they feel entrapped ☊ in a system that is determined ☊ and motivated ☊ to see them fail ☊.

Organized and supported by the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition, this collection offers a rare opportunity for individuals convicted ☊ of felonies in Washington and Benton Counties to tell their stories ☊, share their wrongs ☊ and harness ☊ their expertise to reimagine a more just system.

These were not stories of criminal pasts but of traumas ☊ related to abuse ☊, drugs ☊ and addiction ☊, racism ☊, mental health ☊ and partner violence ☊breadcrumbs ☊ that should have led to real opportunities for recovery and independence. Instead, they were met with the full force of police authority ☊ that accused ☊, shamed ☊, exploited ☊, removed ☊ and destroyed ☊ their families pushing them into a familiar darkness ☊. These first interactions wrote the rules ☊ and set the tone ☊ for ongoing harassment ☊, forcing some to move out of town ☊ or out of state ☊. Others gave in ☊ or gave up ☊.
When it’s made available ☊, compassionate ☊ and appropriate ☊ support is a gamechanger, resulting in real opportunities for healing, education ☊, livable wage employment ☊ and a clean slate ☊. But for most individuals convicted of felonies, the powerlessness ☊ that comes with the disease of addiction ☊ and abuse is exacerbated by a system that deprives them of employment ☊, the right to vote ☊, public assistance and the social connections ☊ and leisure that we all need and want. What’s more, they live with the terror ☊ that, at any moment, the police can choose to pull them over ☊, run their tags ☊, collect on unpaid fines and fees ☊ and send them back to prison, undoing every small, fragile step forward.
“Instead of tearing us down, what would it look like to build us up?” ☊ Participants are united in their insistence that poverty, mental health and addiction should be non-criminal offenses ☊, eliminating the need for more jails and investing more in the community ☊. They advocate for addiction recovery programs ☊ and resources that actually address the root of the problems ☊, including affordable housing ☊, expanded employment, GED ☊ and credential programs, more public defenders ☊, better mental health protocols ☊ and training ☊, and police accountability ☊.
The future of these hardworking ☊ individuals committed to recovery should not be left to chance ☊, second or otherwise. Their aspirations are familiar — to be a “real mommy” ☊ and a “paw-paw,” ☊ earn a simple living ☊, enjoy nature ☊ and take care ☊ of those they love. They deserve, just like the rest of us ☊, real opportunities to achieve those goals. Until then, they work and volunteer to knock down ☊ the system, doing the real service work ☊, reciprocating the love ☊ they’ve received and reclaiming the power ☊ they’ve been denied.

For resources on how you can help reimagine our justice system in Arkansas, go to https://bit.ly/3a25N5J. 

Are you a formerly incarcerated individual living in Northwest Arkansas and want to share your story? Email arkansasjusticereform@gmail.com.

Reimagine Arkansas

Because the future belongs to all of us.