After 44 Years in Prison, This Man Re-Entering Society ‘Experienced What It’s Like to Travel to the Future’

Time travel might be a dream for some, but probably not the way Otis Johnson did it.

For the man who spent 44 years in prison and was released in 2014, he ostensibly “experienced what it’s like to travel to the future,” as the social news site Reddit put it.

He entered prison at 25 years old for attempted murder of a police officer, according to Al Jazeera, and was 69 years old when he re-entered free society.

“I stand out here for a long time, watching this crazy stuff,” Johnson said in the video produced by Al Jazeera as he stood in the middle of New York City’s Time Square, watching the flashing ads in windows and people staring down at screens held in their hands.

Otis Johnson described what re-entering society was like after serving 44 years in prison. (Image source: YouTube)
Otis Johnson described what re-entering society was like after serving 44 years in prison. (Image source: YouTube)

“Prison affected me a lot and my re-entry was a little bit hard at first because things had changed,” he said.

One particular observation Johnson had after coming out of prison was that “everybody or the majority of people were talking to themselves.”

“Then I looked closer and they seemed to have things in their ears, you know? I don’t know, those things with the phone thing? iPhones they call them or something like that. I thought in my mind, ‘What everybody became CIA or agents or stuff like that?’ Because that’s the only thing I can think of somebody walking around with wires in their ears,” Johnson said of seeing people speak through small microphones on their earbuds connected to cellphones.

“Some people are not even looking where they’re going. So I’m trying to figure out how people do that, control themselves to walk and talk on the phone without even looking where they’re going,” he said. “So that was amazing to me.”

Other things that have changed include the cost to use a pay phone (up from $0.25 to $1 and that’s when a pay phone is even available), colored drinks that “look funny” (Johnson calls it “gator stuff” but it’s also known as Gatoraid) and peanut butter and jelly in the same jar.

Watch the video about Johnson’s re-acclimation after getting out of prison:

According to Al Jazeera’s feature, Johnson was released with an identification card, his criminal case history, $40 and two bus tickets. He lives at the nonprofit Fortune Society in Harlem.

Overall, Johnson said that being back out in society is “a good feeling, a very good feeling.”

“It’s nice to be free,” he said.