“On the windows. I ain’t never seen nothing like this before. Look. On the windows? We ain’t seen nothing on no windows but people. Walking by. Not no video,” Otis said, as he stared at a video ad playing on a store window. He had been in prison for 44 years and had just got out.
Looking around, he thought people were talking to themselves. It was surprising at first, until he realized that they were speaking into earphones. He said they looked like CIA agents, because that’s what they looked like back in his day.
“Some people are not even looking at where they’re going. So I’m trying to figure out how people do that,” he said. “Control themselves to walk and talk on the phone without even looking (sic) where they’re going. So that was amazing to me.”
Otis Johnson was 25 when he started serving a sentence for the attempted murder of a policeman. He was released at the age of 69. On getting out, he quickly realized how the world was a different place than he left it in the 1960s.
Speaking to Al Jazeera in an interview, Otis compared what is now a futuristic world with what he knew it to be. “Prison affected me a lot and my re-entry [into the world] was hard at first. Because things had changed,” he said as he sat on a chair in Times Square, trying to take it all.
With every passing day, Otis tries to immerse himself in the world around him, trying to understand how it all works. According to Al Jazeera, “he involves himself with a local mosque. He practices tai chi and meditates. He attempts to pursue his dream of opening up a shelter for women, though with his lack of credit history securing the funds for such a project has proven close to impossible. He walks the streets of New York, observing people around him. He returns to Fortune Society by 9pm each night, heeding his curfew.”
Otis has no birth certificate, no family and no friends. His interview offers a new perspective to the world we are in now, albeit from the eyes of an old man. Watching the video, you quickly understand how much the world has changed and how much it’s still going to change.
Read Otis’ story on Al Jazeera’s website.
Photo Credit: Al Jazeera