Welcome to another week, Philly. It's beginning to feel a whole lot like fall, and while frost isn't coming to the city quite yet, you may want to keep a jacket on hand. This morning we have our usual bag of good reads from last week, plus an interview with one of our colleagues about a Philadelphian who turned his life around thanks to a No. 2 pencil.
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Each week we'll go behind the scenes with one of our reporters to learn how they reported their latest story and the challenges they faced along the way. This week, reporter Samantha Melamed discusses how she learned about Russell Craig, a North Philly artist who used drawing and painting as an escape while he was in prison, then turned that passion into a successful career as a muralist.
How did you first learn about Russell Craig?
[Inquirer video editor/producer] Raishad Hardnett, my collaborator on this story, learned about Russell's story from contacts at Mural Arts and recognized immediately that it was a story worth telling. Then, fortunately, he convinced me to join him in this project.
What can you tell me about the stigma and hardship people released from prison face? Are success stories like Russell's rare to find or hear about?
There are success stories — and there are also a lot of far more complicated stories. People coming out of prison often struggle with housing, particularly given that they may not be allowed to stay with family in public housing. They face enormous stigma on the job market, particularly as background checks have become more common; there have even been stories of people with records barred from work as home health aides for their own kin.
What are some difficulties you face when trying to get someone to open up about their prison experience?
Not everyone wants to think about or be identified with that part of their life. Fortunately, Russell was open to sharing — he gets that it's part of the story that makes him who he is.
What were some new things you learned when writing this profile?
I never imagined there was such a thriving art market in prison! He really made a business for himself selling portraits in prison, and that's what convinced him he could do it on the outside, too.
Halloween is just around the corner. We hope you have a fun time carving out some spooky designs like @rebecca__adams! 🎃
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