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Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison (2020)


Romany Malco made his feature-length writing and directorial debut with Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison. He developed the TJ character over the years including a television pilot, Prison Logic. The film is set up as a student documentary film of Jackson’s return to society after finishing his latest prison sentence. He aspires to become a motivational speaker, a skill he was developing in prison with the help of his nephew, who ran a blog from the outside.

Regina Hall plays Cheryl Wagner, a long-time friend, and Jackson’s current parole officer. The terms of Jackson's parole necessitates that he be actively searching for paid employment. It does not allow for entrepreneurial adventures or self-employment. Wagner has a genuine interest in Jackson avoiding returning to prison, but her patience is continually tested. It feels like the type of relationship a parole officer should have, being an advocate, cheerleader, but maintaining a baseline level of discipline.

The film is a comedy, but it covers serious subject matter about the criminal justice system. Jackson elected to extend his prison sentence in place of spending time in a half-way house before his reintegration into society. While filling out an employment history form with Wagner, Jackson rattles off a half dozen jobs that he had held while in prison but is unable to list them on his resume because the reason for leaving them was leaving prison. Some of the fire fighting forces that battle wildfires in California are prisoners on work release. They develop real skills that could be leveraged into full-time employment as firefighters at the end of their sentences, but the law prohibits ex-convicts from serving as firefighters.

The film is funny but can get a little repetitive. I think the repetition of situations is a commentary on the nature of reintegrating into society and facing the same hurdles over and over again without advancing. Jackson also reintegrates into his family, taking care of his nephew and mother and gaining trust from his sister. It is touching at times.

The film credits contain a paragraph about The Innocence Project, Innocence Project - Help us put an end to wrongful convictions! The United States has an incarceration problem that disproportionately affects minorities. If you have time to watch this film then take some time looking around the Innocence Project website or do some research about the struggles that people that have paid of their debt to society face when they try to rejoin society.

This film was partially financed by the supporters of a podcast that I listen to. The film was free on Hoopla when I watched it. I am glad that I found out about this movie because I think it otherwise would have been easily lost. I am interested to see if Romany Malco continues to write and direct, possibly branching off beyond his Tijuana Jackson character. If he makes a full-on where is TJ now, I will certainly be watching.

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