‘Life on Parole,’ produced by alumnus, examines the challenges after prison

Jeff ArakPhoto/courtesy

Jeff Arak

In the United States, more than 4 million people are serving time on parole or probation. Their stories are often overlooked and untold, but a new documentary co-produced by Jeff Arak ’07 aims to help change that.

“These are people standing in line next to us at the grocery store, or they are our neighbors, and we don't realize they are still serving sentences,” Arak said. “It's a topic a lot of people are interested in shedding some light on.”

“Life on Parole,” a documentary for the Emmy-award winning PBS investigative program Frontline, first aired in July. It follows the lives of four people after they are released from state prison in Connecticut as they try to re-enter society and avoid returning to prison. The film closely examines the challenges they face, along with the difficult jobs of their parole officers.

The film is part of a collaborative project between Frontline and the New York Times that focuses on various facets of life after incarceration, from parenting to addiction to re-incarceration. The Frontline documentary is the first major producer credit for Arak.

“To work with these powerful partners and push an ambitious idea into realization has been extremely thought-provoking and inspiring,” Arak said.

Arak joined the production during casting, when they were interviewing prisoners on the verge of being released. The state of Connecticut gave the film crew deep access to their prison and parole system and helped the filmmakers find subjects, who were documented for a year.

The project will also include in-depth articles and additional videos that will appear on the New York Times website. Arak shot much of the footage for the film – almost everything recorded was shot by either Arak or Director Matthew O’Neill.

Arak first started to get the idea that he might want to be a filmmaker as an undergraduate at Brandeis, when he made a short film about media created by indigenous people in Mexico for an anthropology course taught by Professor of Anthropology Elizabeth Ferry.

"That whet my appetite for making documentaries," Arak said.

Since graduating from Brandeis, he’s worked on a variety of documentary projects, including a short film on a fellow Brandeis alum’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury.

Arak isn't quite sure what his next project will be, but he'd like to examine more underexplored issues.

“I’ve really enjoyed doing this type of investigative reporting, and to do it with a special attention to individuals in their day-to-day lives,” he said.

Watch "Life on Parole" in its entirety on Frontline's website

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