Join us for season two of Voices’ own Gray Area podcast, where we make documentaries for your ears. This time, we’ve followed one man with a life sentence who got an unexpected second chance at life. But before he came home, Voices correspondent Gilbert Bao helped revolutionize the whole concept of rehabilitation in the state’s prison system. He and other incarcerated men in Soledad’s Correctional Training Facility took on the work of changing themselves — and with them, an entire prison system. This 10-part audio documentary series launched on November 21, 2022.
This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org.
Four years in the making, our 10-part audio documentary launches November 21, 2022. This entire season focuses on the story of Gilbert Bao. While serving a life sentence, Gilbert helped lead a group of incarcerated men who have revolutionized the way we approach rehabilitation in California prisons.
Gilbert Bao was sentenced to life in prison but found a new life after life. In our first episode, Gilbert takes us through his old neighborhoods as we explore the many factors and reasons why a frightened 8-year old from East Los Angeles grows up to become a man facing a life sentence. | SHOW NOTES
It’s the late 1990s. Although no one was injured in the shoot-out he took part in, Gilbert is sentenced to 24 years to life in prison under California’s strict gang sentencing laws. While he technically has a shot at parole, almost no one with “life” in their sentence goes home, and he expects to die behind the walls. As he starts his term, Gilbert has to decide if he’ll play along with prison gang “politics” or find a way to stay —somehow, some way — in his 3-year-old daughter’s life. | SHOW NOTES
Gilbert realizes he has a lot to learn when he meets a man who changes his outlook on the world. As he struggles to stay close to his young daughter in prison visiting rooms, he also discovers he has a gift for working with “at-risk” kids. Soon he and a handful of incarcerated men are starting to change not only themselves but the entire California prison system. | SHOW NOTES
Gilbert’s younger brother Manny, who is also in prison, isn’t doing well. He’s deeply involved in prison gang “politics” and has spent years in the SHU — full-time solitary confinement. It’s taking a severe toll on Manny’s mental health. Saddened but knowing how dangerous isolation can be, Gilbert decides to do something about his own loneliness. He puts his name and picture on a prison penpal site, and wonders if anyone will write back. | SHOW NOTES
Gilbert’s penpal Rebecca flies to California from Texas so they can meet face to face. Even though Gilbert might not come home for years or even decades, a small piece of string in the prison visiting room changes the course of their relationship. Then a phone call to After Life producer Julie Reynolds Martinez shatters Gilbert’s world. | SHOW NOTES
SPECIAL EPISODE – Gilbert grew up in the shadow of the LA County Sheriff’s Department — ever since the day he was taken from home in a deputy’s patrol car at eight years old. This investigation looks at the darker side of that department’s legacy, and digs into a culture of criminality by law enforcement that still haunts the region today. Warning: This episode contains detailed descriptions of violence. | SHOW NOTES
California lawmakers start paying attention to what neuroscientists are saying about the adolescent brain. Changes in the law mean Gilbert suddenly has a chance for parole — years before he thought he would. | SHOW NOTES
Free at last, Gilbert has to find his way through a world that’s changed dramatically over the 21 years he’s been in prison. Though he feels joy reuniting with loved ones, he also panics over the littlest things. Yet he sees this new world in ways the rest of us might take for granted. | SHOW NOTES
It’s 2020. Just as Gilbert is adjusting to his new world outside prison, that world shuts down. Gilbert goes online during a year of joy and sorrow, until he and Marlena take to the streets to honor Manny. Soon, there’s a new development in the case of the deputy who killed him. | SHOW NOTES
In our final episode, Gilbert settles into a new home while he continues to work on solutions to violence and injustice. Then, just as he gets comfortable with his new normal, he ends up in a place he thought he’d left for good. | SHOW NOTES
Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.