The Returning Citizen

The Returning Citizen is a storytelling platform that aims to inspire and inform ex-offenders, their families, and allies.

The Returning Citizen is a storytelling platform that aims to inspire and inform ex-offenders, their families, and allies.

Episode 11 - Empowering Ex-Offenders through Education (Talks At Google)

The Returning Citizen teamed up with Talks at Google to discuss how education is creating opportunities for ex-offenders. Jacob and Imani interviewed an amazing group of panelists, including Aaron Kinzel (Lecturer of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Michigan-Dearborn), Michelle Smart (Founder, Bags to Butterflies), Karlos Harris (COO, Detroit School of Digital Technology), and our own Erik Burgess.

Recorded October 18, 2018 at Google Detroit at Little Caesar’s Arena


  • Aaron Kinzel

  • Michelle Smart

  • Karlos Harris

Episode 10 - Wrongfully Convicted: Life after prison for exonerees

At age 16, Jeff Deskovic's life turned upside down when he was wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of a classmate. After 16 long years in prison, he was finally exonerated and released, cleared of all charges. Today, Jeff is the Founder of The Deskovic Foundation, committed to the prevention of wrongful convictions and the reintegration of exonerees. In this episode, we explore what happened to Jeff, why wrongful convictions are so common, and what we can do about it. We end with concrete action steps for those who want to help as well as some pragmatic advice for those currently serving time for wrongful convictions.

Wrongful convictions are painfully common. The US National Registry of Exonerations recognizes over 1,600 wrongful convictions since 1989, and a Wayne State University study estimates ~10,000 wrongful convictions per year. After release, exonerees face many of the same challenges as other returning citizens, including social stigma, lack of job readiness, and financial instability. Worse, they are often unable to take advantage of resources dedicated to reintegration assistance, and in many cases, they are not compensated for their wrongful conviction.

Want to help wrongfully convicted prisoners? Please donate to the Deskovic Foundation:

Recorded March 18, 2018 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI

Episode 9 - Bags to Butterflies: 
Reducing Recidivism With Handbags


  • Michelle Smart

  • Robin McArdle


When women return from prison, they face some unique challenges as compared to their male counterparts. Even though women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population, there are few programs designed specifically for women after their release. In this episode, Jacob, Erik, and Imani sit down with Michelle Smart and Robin McArdle from Bags to Butterflies to discuss their particularly creative solution for keeping women out of prison: empowering them through the creation and sales of gorgeous, handmade, wooden purses.

But Bags to Butterflies is so much more than a purse company. Through employment, training, support resources, and a loving community, they are working hard to ensure that every single woman in the program stays out of prison for good.

Recorded January 28, 2018 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI

Episode 8 - Entrepreneurship as a Path for Returning Citizens

Finding a job can be a major challenge for men and women coming out of prison. For some, entrepreneurship can provide a path to take control of their situation and create their own opportunities. In this episode, Jacob, Erik, and Imani sit down with Karlos Harris (COO, Detroit School of Digital Technology) and Stephan Franklin (Founder, Motor City Media Group), both Detroit-based entrepreneurs who started their own businesses after serving substantial time behind bars. We touch on how they got started, what it's like to run a business, the value of personal branding, and why hustlers have all the skills they need to become great entrepreneurs.

Recorded October 29, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI

EPISODE 7 - Aaron Kinzel: From Prisoner to Professor

In this episode, Jacob and Imani sit down with Aaron Kinzel to discuss how he went from serving a 10-year prison sentence to teaching about criminology and criminal justice as a professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In his words, "I know everything there is to know about crime. I don't need to read a book about criminology... I lived it since I was a child." He sheds light on how a lifetime of bad influences and terrible decisions landed him in prison, what he did to get his life together after his release, and the opportunity our society has to think differently about redemption for violent criminals.

Watch a video of this interview.

Recorded September 17, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI

EpISODE 6 - Azzie: A Mother's Journey from Crime to Design


In this episode, Jacob, Erik, and Imani sit down with the one and only Azzie to hear about her experience growing up around crime and ultimately serving two separate prison sentences before finally turning her life around. She shares insight into the unique challenges faced today by incarcerated women, the fastest growing segment of the US prison population. Azzie is a proud mother who is now thriving as a Creative Designer at Rebel Nell, a Detroit-based company that helps disadvantaged women transition into self-sustained living by turning fallen chips of graffiti paint into beautiful jewelry.

Recorded June 25, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI



EpISODE 5 - Equal Justice Under Law: Fighting Wealth-Based Discrimination


Jacob and Imani connect with Phil Telfeyan, Executive Director for Equal Justice Under Law, a national civil rights organization based in Washington, DC. Phil explains how they recently filed a class action lawsuit against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (Fowler v. Johnson) for suspending driver's licenses of people who are too poor to pay the debts they owe the state for traffic violations or court costs. The two named plaintiffs are both residents of Detroit.

Recorded on May 10, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak



EpISODE 4 - Escaping Thru Art: Creative Expression As a Release


Jacob, Erik, and Imani chat with members of the Prison Creative Arts Project, a Michigan-based program that "brings those impacted by the justice system and the University of Michigan community into artistic collaboration for mutual learning and growth."

Recorded May 10, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI


  • Janie Paul (Senior Curator & Co-Founder, PCAP's Art Exhibition)

  • Michael Vander Horst (Artist, PCAP Member)

  • Larnell E. Johnson (Artist, PCAP Member)


EpISODE 3 - Welcome Home Jamo: Activist/Poet Returns After 30 Years


The Returning Citizen Podcast co-hosts Jacob and Erik welcome home James “Jamo” Thomas, recently released after a 30-year prison term. Despite being sentenced to life without parole at age 15 in 1987, Jamo managed to help start a variety of programs while incarcerated, including The Teddy Bear Project and Writer's Block (links below). As a recently freed man, he's committed to positively impacting his community through mentorship, art, and activism.

Recorded April 30, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI

EpISODE 2 - Teach a Man to Farm: Growing Food While Creating Jobs


Jacob Smith and guest host Brandon Christopher sit down with Detroit's own Anna Kohn to discuss how RecoveryPark Farms is putting returning citizens to work growing produce in Detroit!

Recorded: April 9, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI

EpISODE 1 - Telling Erik's Story: The Returning Citizen Debuts!


Jacob, Erik, and Imani introduce The Returning Citizen. Erik reflects on why he got life without parole for a nonviolent drug crime, how he got out after 18 years, and what he's been up to since. Hint: He's been launching an amazing podcast called The Returning Citizen!

Recorded January 18, 2017 at Podcast Detroit in Royal Oak, MI

The Returning Citizen is a nonprofit podcasting project based in Detroit, MI.