Part 1: The Problem : Failed Assimilation Rate of the Formerly Incarcerated in New Orleans
With an incarceration rate of 1,094 per 100,000 Louisiana residents, many of these members of the community fear their, “second chance equals second rate,” and that when they reveal they have been previously convicted of a crime, they will be one-third as likely to be called for an interview due to 60% of employers claiming they would absolutely not hire someone with a criminal record. Economists Jeffrey Koznik, “said employers often assume the worst when they see someone has a criminal record,” despite their time served, degree of their crime, or legitimacy of their conviction, leading to 27% of formerly incarcerated being currently unemployed, a higher rate than the US unemployment percentage during the Great Depression.
Even if they are able to find jobs, they make on average 11% less than their peers with similar qualifications and have earning losses due to their former incarceration of 10-40%. Compared to other unemployed people who seek aid during this transition period through local and government agencies, like Temporary Aid for Needy Families, those with criminal records, such as drug convictions, are unable to access Public Housing and Section 8 programs including food stamps or federal education funding. “Formerly incarcerated people need stable jobs for the same reasons as everyone else,” and want to work but these governmental barriers and socially constructed ideas hinder them from not only gaining employment but also being actively participatory members of the community for many years. With limited resources, their failed attempts to reenter society either leads to 1 in 3 of convicts returning to prison within a year or becoming homeless with the formerly incarcerated being 10 times more likely to be homeless.
Recidivism Rates ( likelihood to recommit a crime) are directly tied to the, “ability to find employment,” and thus when only 12% of companies are willing to fire those with a felony conviction, the reconviction rate grows each year with 42% of those released from Louisiana prisons returning within five years. This ultimate cancellation from society begins ironically as soon as people step out of jail and desire to be a part of society.
Disproportionate discrimination targets against the formerly incarcerated people of color, with 43.6% of formerly incarcerated Black women being unemployed compared to 18.4% of formerly incarcerated white men. This national problem can be most specifically examined through the lens of New Orleans, as people of color are disproportionately incarcerated at higher rates than others in New Orleans and thus this is reflected in their employment rates. Despite large numbers of occupational shortages, such as Louisiana’s nursing shortage, many qualified citizens are limited from fulfilling their economic desires and participating in the community due to having been formerly incarcerated. “I feel like I’m always gonna have to be explaining the situation, even if I paid my debt to society,” was stated by New Orleans woman of color Alyssa, an honors graduating nursing student who was fired from her job for a petty crime she served for over 10 years ago, fueling her to question why she is being limited for trying to better her family’s life and to pursue her passion. Governmental Occupational licensing limits people from reintegrating into society as it hinders formerly incarcerated from becoming anything from barbers to pharmacy technicians.
Immediate firings due to legal limits worsen the already negative perception many have of past inmates , and furthers an idea that they are firstly not able to change or grow from their past mistake and secondly not capable of holding a stable job as they are less than a typical employee. This preconceived notion makes it difficult to find jobs beyond legal limitation as there is a social idea amongst employers that past convicts are a legal liability due to their past transgressions. In addition to such limitations, the unorganized judicial system in New Orleans has led to over 2,000 to 2,500 of the incarcerated people having had their sentence unfairly lengthened because the Orleans Parish failed to process his paperwork, revealing the hand of governmental action in affecting the future of those who have already served their prescribed time, making it harder for them to apply for jobs as their sentences appear worse that what they originally were.
New Orleans is the current incarceration capital of the world with 20,000 New Orleans residents having been to prison and many holding criminal records despite not ever being convicted. The lives and past of these citizens is unclear to most, and the only picture many can correlate to previous inmates is a negatory one of a jail and violent crime, but these images have been often created by the government’s actions as many in Louisiana prisons are serving sentences, and thus changing how they are perceived by society for crimes they did not even commit. In addition to a job crisis amongst formerly incarcerated people, the Housing Acts in New Orleans require one to show there criminal history no matter the charge and often out of laziness, they are, “ eight times out of 10 they’re passing me completely, not doing the background check,” says New Orleans resident Kiana Calloway who holds a criminal record of a crime from 20 years ago. Public Housing, supported by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, where 3.4 million households in housing projects are supported annually, has previously banned the formerly incarcerated, limiting them from the equal rights of others, and dehumanizing their need for public housing.
Part 2: Data Driven Solution : Escaping Controversy with a Loyal Fan Base
The 2018 vlog titled “SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE PLAYED WITH FIRE” filmed and posted by Youtuber David Dobrik to his channel, features cheering and laughter from Jeff Wittek and Todd Smith of the Vlog Squad (Dobrik’s created influencer collective) outside of the room where squad member Dom Zegalitis appears to have been yet again successful in a sexual encounter with a young woman, adding to the character’s sex addict persona. After receiving 5 million views, the video was taken down by David in 2019 after requested by the victim, a rarity amongst David’s 400+ vlog uploads. In 2021, claims surfaced by the young woman that she was not only highly intoxicated with alcohol supplied by the Vlog Squad during the sexual encounter but also had asked Zeglaitis and Dobrik to take the video down after receiving notoriety amongst classmates for her presence in the video.
The David Dobrik style of having laughter and quick editing rarely focuses on David himself or his role in planning the videos; in fact, some parts of the sexual abuse video were later claimed to have been reenacted. Dobrik’s directorial style enables him to easily dismiss members of the Vlog Squad, such as Zegalitis with a short apology where he states that he, “made the decision to no longer film with Dom,” and to remain unharmed by deflecting the negative media to the direct perpetrator of the assault. Vlog Squad members, such as Scotty Sire, protect Dobrik by apologizing on his behalf in order to maintain their status in the group. This preserves the popularity of David by detaching his name from the negative media coverage that they depend on for continued fame, resulting in Sire growing his a couple thousand viewers to 3 million. 18.3 million subscribers soon became aware of additional controversies, such as the unreleased vlog of Jeff Wittek’s 2020 accident where Wittek sustains head injuries after being abruptly slammed into the excavator he was being spun on by Dobrik, and this was met by an acknowledgement in by Dorbik that he can take, “80% of the blame,” for what occurred during filming. Being a part of the joke and “Doing it for the Vlog” are aspects of such content that fuels acceptance between the members of the squad itself despite bodily harm, such as Wittek evading David’s involvement with his eye injury during a 2020 Frenemies interview, but also by the viewers, who may be questioning the morality of some vlog content.
Six second clips allowed for Vine to not only be more easily created by the influencer itself, such as compared to the average 7 hours of editing by Youtubers, but also more consumable than other platforms, growing David Dobrik’s Vine following to 1 million in under a one year after beginning in 2013 compared to the 3 years it took Youtuber Shane Dawon to grow his channel.The young audience of 2015 was enamored with the dark humored sketches by the friendly faced Dobrik, including him in wheelchairs and saying ethnic jokes, and the interest continued to the production of Dobrik’s 4:20 minute Youtube vlog style content with the discontinuation of Vine in 2016, seamlessly transitioning his one million Vine followers to one million Youtube followers in his first year on the platform.
Contrasting other popular Youtubers at the time, such as Shane Dawson who had 8 million subscribers in 2016 and made 20 minute long gimmick product reviews, such content fueled a routine for the viewer with daily uploads receiving consistent views in the millions but also became friends with those within the starring Vlog Squad. The Vlog Squad’s created personalities informed the content of each episodic vlog that included members tattooing David’s name on their bodies and secretly filmed sexual encounters, and this visual devotion allowed for them to enhance their own fame through David’s larger following, such as in the case of Nick Antonyan who grew his channel from 1,000 to 200,000 subscribers after driving a motorcycle into a pool in a 2018 Dobrik Vlog whom had 10,000,000 subscribers at the time.
The growing relationship of need between those within the Vlog Squad and Dobrik grew a constant competitive environment that generated more content where reality and fiction were blurred, such as in videos where vlog members participated in kissing pranks in which members were tricked into thinking they were kissing someone else while blindfolded. The relationship between the viewer and Dobrik became transparent with his creation of Clickbait Merchandise and Doughbrick’s Pizza Restaurant since subscribers could live their daily lives like Dobrik and his friends as part of the collective squad of millions. This relationship developed further when these subscribers accepted the call of support by David in 2021 after the sexual assault controversy because he would “show” and “prove to them” that such mistakes wouldn’t be happening again.
“Do It For the Views”, a term coined by the Squad, became a catchall phrase for not only doing “fun” things like turning a friend’s house into a beach, but also dangerous activities such as in the case of Wittek where he was nearly blinded after being slammed into the excavator under the mishandling of Dobrik. Behavioral, Language and Capitalization tactics translated to Dobrik’s continued and ever-growing audience allowing him to swiftly move out of controversy by either hiding behind his loyal squad members or maintaining a front of comedy and continuing with his usual content that the young fan base craved for no matter the incident.
Recently popularized in the beauty guru community, Shane Dawson revealed a shocking, raw livestream of him saying that fellow Youtube beauty guru Tati Westbrook was, “ so manipulative and fake crying,” in response to her June 2020 video “Breaking My Silence.” Westbrook, who formerly in 2019 led the cancellation of her once mentee and young makeup creator James Charles in the Youtube video “Bye Sister”, says that Dawson pushed and provided evidence against Charles for her to make the controversial video with hope to add drama and anticipation to upcoming his beauty world documentary. Such accusations quickly condemned Dawson as “ignorant” by the beauty community, who knew Shane from his recent documentary-style content ranging from talks about eating disorders, the power struggles of fame, and irrelevancy. In these documentaries, Dawson featured a new light on Youtube’s most controversial characters, such as in 2018 with Jeffree Star, whose drama instigating, loud character seen in review videos criticizing his peer’s makeup from his multi-million dollar home, was someone who has suffered with a decade long battle with self harm.
This acceptance into the beauty social media space, shown through his second makeup post on Twitter receiving almost 100 thousand likes, triggered Dawson and Star to collaborate on The Conspiracy palette as well as a the “ The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star” documentary series to illuminate truths like the $20,000,000 made by Star from the launch of a singular palette. Westbrook’s claims led to research into the often discussed racist past of Dawson by his new audience which he alluded to as, “Blackface was something I did a lot”, igniting him to make yet another public apology despite the mounting evidence and loss of 2 million subscribers , stating that this was his “past self” and what he will do next is “only put good into the world”. Negative reaction to the original dark humor of racial stereotypes and sexualization of minors illustrated in characters such as Shanaynay, a caricature of a black woman created by the 200 pound loner teenager Shane Dawson, son of abusive father and single mother, in 2008 on “Shane Dawson TV” has followed Dawson throughout his decade-long career. To maintain his 22.6 million subscribers, Dawson has had a series of switches in his content, beginning in 2014 after initial upset around such racist jokes led to an expression of guilt and creation of bright yellowed thumbnails featured taste testing and popular product review.
This desire to be deemed more appropriate and accepted led to the abandonment of the original audience and that audience to shift support away from Dawson. This was illustrated in 2018 when a series of pedophilia claims were released and Dawson began producing longer form conspiracy theory videos, and such videos gained millions of views per upload as the reversal in content attracted a new audience by the generation of a different content style and adaption of Dawson into a different character to hide from controversy. These videos were no longer a singular character hidden in makeup as his mid2000s content, but rather a Dawson in a casual shirt talking about conspiracy theories that interested him and the inclusion of close fellow Youtube friends, family, and partner. This new character was a reversal from his original content and temporarily succeeded in not only representing growth for older audience members but also a new character for those finding his content for the first time.
Dawson’s savior type documentary videos popularized in 2018 added to his successful reinvention until once again controversy from the past was brought up through the popularization of a 2015 “Shane and Friends” podcast where he states his first sexual experience was with a cat, reigniting the pattern of controversy and content switching in order to escape backslash through the means of a new audience. Dawson excused the accounts as dark humor by tweeting, that at the time, his goal with the podcast and his videos was to, “tell shocking stories that would make people laugh and scream, ‘OMG NO U DIDNT!!’ and think I was ‘so crazy’,” and after this apology Dawson took a short break before returning to Youtube as a beauty guru. This content creation and acceptance in the Youtube beauty community was short lived as Tati Westbrook’s video highlighted the possible false persona of Dawson and led the audience on a chase of the past incidents of racism, abuse, and pedophilia that have been brought up repeatedly in the 15 years of his career. With each new group, it was only a matter of time, almost every 2 years, before the truth would begin to come out once again. By constantly switching styles, Dawson failed to establish one solid fan base that would support him no matter his wrong actions and had to constantly re-apologize, making him seem inauthentic, but also shed light once again on the negative controversies.
Part 3: Applied Solution : Building a Good Reputation/ Community Support with the Guidance of a Respected Mentor
The unemployment rate amongst the formerly incarcerated in New Orleans is a growing number that can lead one to a life struggling against barriers in governmental limitations that make finding a job despite one’s qualifications almost impossible, leading to reincarceration and homelessness. This clear cancellation of society can be attributed to the employer’s hesitation in being willing to hire the formerly incarcerated and overall stigma present in society upon those who have been previously incarcerated. Current programs in New Orleans are set in place that provide aid in growing profitable skills and job placement such as Cornerstone Builders and Louisiana Prisoner Reentry Initiative, but these organizations are rarely focused on changing the larger social perception as they pair with organizations that are already hiring those with criminal records . The emotionally and socially constructed belief that all people with a criminal record are harmful and a large contributor to the growing unemployment rate, thus it is these misconceptions on their reputation that must be revised.
Youtube Vlogger David Dobrik, an influencer involved in controversies from filming sexual assaults to physically harming a friend on camera, has been able to maintain a strong following and escape cancellation despite these negative actions. He has a strong fan base built from when the young, middle class highschool began an early career on Vine, where he filmed humorous, relatable content to a follower pool of 1 million in 2013. His short format comedic videos featured graphic pranks and extreme stunts catching the eye of the young fan base, and were all performed by the same consistent group, cementing a steady viewer as fans built virtual friendships with Dobrik and his created Vlog Squad of other well established and respected influencers. An employment program for the formerly incarcerated people of color who seek to reintegrate into society can be formulated in which they are paired with a well respected member of the New Orleans community and can work with them to enrich their current skills or learn a new trade they can take to their next employer. This will be a community-based program under a foundation economically supported by donation and the Arts Council of New Orleans as this will not only aid the artist community of New Orleans but also the greater relationship of those within the city as a whole.
By working with a respected member they will not only be able to enhance their resume formally, but also can be viewed favorably as people will begin to trust them and reduce the questions they may have formerly had though associated with their favored mentor. The creatively skilled communities of New Orleans, such as the rich music and arts scene require people of all rank and professional experiences to grow this booming market, and many of high prestige in these communities have voiced their willingness to not only represent the voice of underrepresented groups in their art but also their willingness to be social advocates. Upon selection of creators, such as The Preservation Jazz Hall Band, The Small Center, DJ Soul Sister, and BMIKE Odums, they will be paired with 5 formerly incarcerated people of color ranging in age and gender identification for a 6 month paid internship. An artist will have incentive to participate because they will be able to further enrich their campaigns they have already been sharing through their art work but also continue to grow their voice in the community and be considered a philanthropic, community leader.
Two artists that would be the first to participate in the program are Brandam Odums, a New Orleans filmmaker and muralist, and the Small Center, Tulane university community design center. Brandam BMIKE Odums, is a social justice advocate and utilizes his art as a weapon to speak on political issues such as police brutality and Black rights. His mural featuring black revolutionaries next to everyday citizens, seen in the free Studio Be gallery, reflects his interest to provide a welcoming and engaging space to the community in an often turbulent climate. He has been an active visual voice in the community since 2005 where he led a young creative group that filmed and discussed post Katrina life in New Orleans. Such efforts highlight him as an interested candidate that would want to continue to help the community of a misrepresented and often unprotected group in the community by mentoring 20 – 30 year old people who have former criminal records. By working with him, they will be able to progress in the art scene by working with such an esteemed artist , learning his entrepreneurial and social engagement skills. His platform within the community and greater social media can showcase a more personal side of the formerly incarcerated to the public and make transparent these former misconceptions the community has of people not wanting to work or being incapable of work as these young artists showcase their true passion for the craft.
The Small Center is a local organization that not only exhibits local cultures but participates in the creation of spaces around the city with their resources and experienced designers and builders. The creation of physical spaces in the community such as outdoor classrooms and community gardens reflects a need for a multitude of careers and skills set from exhibition curator to woodshop builder. By participating in the construction of spaces throughout the city, the efforts of the formerly incarcerated will be visually represented as markers of their future impact on the community and will remind those employers who doubt those with criminal records of their ability to contribute to the urban landscape. Since this is a larger organization they can find employment within the program after the internship or can also move to another job in New Orleans upon reference of this already well established employer.
The program may experience failure if the mentor’s intentions are inauthentic and if they are purely participating in the program for publicity, leading to an abuse of the mentee even those to the public the position may seem of great value. All participants deserve to be in a safe and skill building space, thus if they are being exploited by the employer for notoriety, then that position will have to be closed by the foundation and the mentee will be moved to another position. Additionally to what was seen in the Vlog Squad, there could also be a sense of disposability. If one of the mentees is believed to have done or did do something wrong or recommit a crime, then the creative may want to stop helping them and choose to mentor someone else as they do not want to hurt their reputation by identifying with a continuing convict. Each person was accepting to participate in the program, are interviewed to examine their possible interests and contributions, thus no one is disposable as they each can have a possible impact on the surrounding society and it is the goal of the program to find where that best fit is to limit the idea of those with criminal records be unable to want a better future.