Omar & Pete

PBS Premiere: Sept. 13, 2005Check the broadcast schedule »

Omar & Pete: Ask the Filmmaker

Beverly in Florida asks: What can I do to help a person who is having a hard time adjusting and coping in the real world outside of the prison walls?

Tod Lending: Beverly, thank you for your question. I would suggest providing that person with as much support as possible while being careful not to become an enabler to that person. The person you refer to must be able, and willing, to take advantage of support on their own. It's their choice and unfortunately, like Omar, there are those who have incredible potential but they're unwilling to do the work that's necessary, and trust those who love them, in order to actualize their potential. Support systems that will help include: family connection, access to health care, drug treatment, transitional housing, counseling, employment and educational opportunities. One of the most important elements of support is the counseling. Many ex-offenders have untreated depression or other forms of mental health issues and they need good counseling. But in many communities therapy is stigmatized. Yet therapy, in my humble opinion, is one of the most important support systems for helping ex-offenders reintegrate into the community. Be well.

Lance in South Carolina asks: Please, tell me the name of the jazz tune being played at the end of your artful film?

Lending: Lance, the music is all original music written specifically for the film. The composer's name is Sheldon Mirowitz and his company, Verite Music, is based in Boston.

Dawn in Texas asks: I was wondering if Omar ever had a mentor in his recovery that he trusted and could reveal his doubts and fears about recovery to? When the system puts so much pressure on a parolee to recover and be committed and there is not an adequate trust built to act upon, a person might feel they are not trustworthy. Also, I would like to see the aspect of genetic tendencies to addiction explored, just as another tool of understanding. This is just something I noticed, but Pete's eyes lit up talking about his sobriety and new life. Omar's eyes were shadowed somewhat, like someone looking for the back door, but, wanting to say and do the right thing.

Lending: Dawn, thank you for your question. You made some good observations. The fact is that Omar did have some wonderful mentors within his grasp. You saw some of them in the film. Marshall and LaTonya (his case managers) were people he trusted and spoke to about his issues except when he fell into a relapse. Then he disappeared. The same went for Pete (his good friend and roommate) and his sister, Sharon, and his last case manager, Nevelle. These people were all former addicts and in the case of everyone except LaTonya they were also ex-offenders. Even though they knew the territory Omar still refused to surrender to his addiction, and refused to humble himself, even in the face of his own brother's death -- which happened in a cell from an overdose (also in the film). You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, and that was Omar's case. Genetic tendencies to addiction should also be explored, but in another film. Be well.

Liam in Colorado asks: As a recovering addict/alcoholic myself (26 years clean and sober) I think one thing missing from your film, which was excellent by the way, was the financial barriers Omar faced. It was alluded to a little bit, but I know from experience that nothing can drive you to drink or use drugs again than a sense of futility. Omar was doomed despite his best intentions not because he was in denial about his addition, which he wasn't, but because he didn't have a real opportunity get his feet on the ground financially. He didn't need more lecturing. He needed a decent paying job. I'm a middle-aged white guy with a few marketable skills and I found it tough to stay clean and sober in those early years. Omar, with so many years behind bars, needed a profession, a decent paying job, and a quiet place to live with dignity. Until we can provide those things along with treatment and support, a lot of ex-addicts are going to slip and fall. I appreciate your sensitive work on this topic.

Lending: Liam, thank you for your comments. I agree that having access to a decent paying job is an important part of recovery and reintegrating oneself into the community. However, Omar, like many of the men coming out after years behind bars, was in a rush to make up for lost time and had it stuck in his head that he was going to do it all on his own. He was going to run his own businesses and make it big quickly. His case managers and friends kept telling him to slow down, take it one step at a time, work for other people in the beginning. He worked for other businesses for a short time but then would leave and start his own little street business hoping to make it on his own. As Pete says, it's the big ideas that will kill you. And Omar was filled with big ideas. Pete made the choice to rebuild slowly and do it through working for others. There were plenty of opportunities for Omar to work for others, but, unfortunately, he chose not to take them. Be well.

Eddy in Massachusetts asks: How can a man give back to his community if they won't allow him to his life skills that helped him survive? I was recently incarcerated. I was released to be a productive member in my community. The only problem is every time I shared my past, I was told due to my record I couldn't work in the field where I can help others find different paths to reach their goals. I have so much to share but no opportunity to display my skills. Do you think there's a place where I can have the chance to follow my dreams of being a behavior counselor? I'm waiting and open to any suggestions.

Lending: Eddy, thank you for your question. Pete was able to quickly get work as an addictions counselor in Baltimore. I know of another former addict, here in Chicago, who also was able to get work in the field. The addiction counselors that I've met were former addicts themselves. I think it's almost a job requirement -- as it should be. So I'm not sure why it's so difficult for you to find a job in that field. All I can say is keeping searching and hopefully something will open up. Be well.

James in New York asks: Knowing how hard it is for men with felonies to get a job, do you think that if you would have helped Omar with a job or some influence on his perception on life, would it have affected the outcome of his life?

Lending: James, thank you for your question. One of the things I learned in making this film is that there's nothing that anyone can do to help someone who isn't ready to take the necessary steps to help themselves. So many of us wanted to help Omar and made ourselves available to him every step of the way. But he had too much pride to accept the help when he was at his weakest and most vulnerable points. All of us -- his case managers, friends, family, and myself -- struggled with the pain of wanting to help a man who had so much potential that couldn't be realized because he was set on doing things his own way. So to answer your question -- if Omar had been open to receiving help from others, and myself, then yes, we would have positively affected the outcome of his life. But he wasn't ready. And so now he's back in for a long time. Be well.

Barbara in Texas asks: Is there any way to write Omar in prison? I was heartbroken by his outcome. My son is a recovering addict & spent many years in and out of jails, treatment centers & finally prison. He is doing so well now, thank Love. We would like to help support someone else who may have lost hope.

Lending: Barbara, Omar would certainly appreciate receiving words of support from outside the walls. You can forward your letter to my office and I will get it to him:

Nomadic Pictures
Tod Lending
P.O Box 25535
Chicago, IL 60625

Be well.

Venus in Ohio asks: First of all I want to tell you that you did a good job on this piece of work. Not only does it affect addicts, but if affects the whole country. I want to know, when you went looking for the best reentry program in the country if Cleveland, Ohio had a reentry program that would really help, dealing with the economy, joblessness? The present President that we have is cutting funding so much that the programs don't even exist any longer or they are at the bare minimum. I thank you for your time and consideration for all of men and women that have lived on the dark side of life and for real death as well.

Lending: Venus, thank you for your thoughts. When I began researching this film back in 2002 I didn't find any interesting reentry programs in Ohio. But maybe that has changed? I don't know. You would need to call the Ohio Department of Correction Public Information Office and ask to speak to their Public Information Officer. That person will be able to inform you on what kind of programs they offer. Be well.