Documentary by Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway
Winner of the Audience award for Best Documentary Feature
"I'm yearning for freedom, even though I'm walking free." This is the heartbreaking statement of Kenneth Anderson, a man sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent drug offense. He said these words after he was released after serving 14 years of his sentence. He was incarcerated under California's Three Strikes Law, which was one of the harshest laws in the nation. It was intended to make California safer but unfortunately it ended up putting thousands of people behind bars for life, often for insignificant and non-violent crimes.
In 2012, California passed a law that was meant to counteract the Three Strikes Rule and gave thousands of prisoners the chance to be released from prison. Many people, who had expected to serve out the rest of their days behind bars were now told they could return home.
The Return is a story about the joys of finding freedom, but also about the difficulties people face once they are released. For many, there is no safe place for them to return to and they fall back into their lives of crime. For the lucky ones there are homes and programs where they get the support and assistance they need to find jobs and make a new life for themselves.
Ultimately, the film makes it clear that even though it is positive that so many people are being released from prison, there aren't enough systems in place to help the former inmates reintegrate into normal society. Just being released from prison isn't enough. The filmmakers open the door to the conversation that our society needs to focus efforts on helping former inmates sustain a functioning life outside of prison and help cater to their specific needs, so that they don't fall back into a vicious cycle of crime.