Starting with the day they are released from California state prisons, A HARD STRAIGHT follows three former prisoners as they enjoy their newly regained freedom while negotiating the difficulties of returning to an uncaring—and often hostile—society.
The film interweaves the stories of Regina Allen, Richard "Smiley" Martinez and Aaron Shepard in their attempts to construct new lives: from the ecstatic moment of their first taste of freedom to the inevitable frustrations, joys, and banality of life on the outside. A HARD STRAIGHT reveals what parolees must do in order to survive after leaving the prison gates with little money and little outside support, how an extended stay in an environment marked by racism, violence, severe regimentation and subjugation affects their ability to re-integrate into “outside life,” and what sorts of resources are necessary for them to make a successful transition.
A HARD STRAIGHT was shot on location in San Francisco and Los Angeles over a two-year period. From the hard streets of gangland San Fernando Valley to a drug rehab center teetering on the edge of survival, the film covers ground rarely featured in the debate over our country's soaring recidivism rates.
Director Goro Toshima shot extensive footage with each of the three parolees, gaining entry into their private lives and documenting their successes as well as their almost inescapable mistakes.
Despite the large numbers of individuals and their families involved in the U.S. corrections system, incarceration has remained a low priority in the nation’s conscience. A seemingly lack of public concern for prisoners is paralleled by a public fascination with crime and criminals. News, film and TV shows exploit this curiosity and feed the public one-dimensional, often racist caricatures of "the criminal." These distorted portrayals of convicts often serve as the main reference point for many when thinking of prisoners. Portraying the reentry process with a clear and direct eye, A HARD STRAIGHT offers multi-dimensional portraits of people with personal histories, observations, remembrances, hopes and fears, providing a real understanding about the profound experience of doing time and trying to go straight.
A HARD STRAIGHT was shot between 2001 and 2003. In November 2004, filmmaker Goro Toshima reported:
Since filming concluded, Smiley returned to prison for one year for violating parole. He has since been released and is doing relatively well. He has a steady job and continues his tattoo work on the side.
Regina tested “dirty” once again. Right now, they are trying to decide whether to send her back to prison or find another rehab program for her.
Aaron returned to prison multiple times, but recently has served out his term and is no longer on parole.
Read about the people profiled in A HARD STRAIGHT >>
Learn more about the American parole system >>
Find out about recidivism and rehabilitation >>