Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 2, Episode 33 - Prisoner Re-Entry - full transcript

United Kingdom proposed online mass surveillance law, Veterans Day, Washington Redskin trademark, Prisoner Reentry. Interview with Bilal Chapman.

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Series II
Episode 33

Welcome, welcome, welcome
to "Last Week Tonight."

Thank you so much for joining us.
I'm John Oliver.

Just time for
a quick recap of the week.

And we begin with the UK,
Earth's least Magic Kingdom.

This week, debate
has been raging over there

over a controversial new law.

The British government is unveiling
new surveillance laws

that significantly extends its power
to monitor people's activities online.

Theresa May there calls it
"a license to operate."

Others have called it a "Snooper's
Charter," haven't they ?

Well, hold on, because "Snooper's
Charter" is not the right phrase.

That sounds like the agreement an
eight-year-old is forced to sign

promising to knock before he enters
his parents' bedroom.

Dexter, sign this Snooper's Charter,

or we cannot be held responsible
for what you might see.

This bill could potentially
write into law

a huge invasion of privacy.

Under the plans, a list of websites
visited by every person in the UK

will be recorded for a year

and could be made available to police
and security services.

This communications data
wouldn't reveal

the exact web page you looked at,
it would show the site it was on.

Okay, so it wouldn't store the exact
page, just the website.

But that is still
a lot of information.

you'd know they were
thinking about taking a trip.

you'd know they just had a stroke and
forgot the word "Google."

you'd know they're horny
and their B-key doesn't work.

And yet, for all the sweeping powers
the bill contains,

British Home Secretary
Theresa May insists

that critics have
blown it out of proportion.

An Internet connection record
is a record

of the communication service
that a person has used,

not a record of every
web page they have accessed.

It is simply the modern equivalent
of an itemized phone bill.

But that's not quite as reassuring as
she thinks it is, I'll tell you why.

First, I don't want the government
looking at my phone calls either.

And secondly,
an Internet browsing history

is a little different
from an itemized phone bill.

No one frantically deletes their phone
bill every time they finish a call.

So, let's move on to veterans,

the only people on Earth who can pull
off a camo jacket...


Wednesday is Veterans Day,

a chance for Americans around the
country to salute those who've served.

Although, if you've watched any
sporting event in the past few years,

you could be excused for thinking
every day is Veterans Day.

The roar of a military flyover is the
highlight of NFL pre-game activities.

Then the Padres take
the field in their camo uni.

Pre-game, a full field flag
was unveiled

in honor of our troops.

A tribute to those
who protect our way of life.

There is Dad, home from Korea.

Here's your moment that makes you
proud to be an American.

Please direct your attention
high above the scoreboard

and welcome Sergeant
First Class Richard Babineau

as he rappels down
from the arena catwalk

for tonight's ceremonial puck drop.

Holy shit !
That is awesome !

Although, quick tip to the NHL,

maybe don't lead off your festivities

with something objectively cooler than
the product you're presenting.

Hope you enjoyed an American hero
flying through the air.

Now for your main event:
12 bearded Russians engage

in full-contact figure skating
while trying to whack a flat ball.

Unfortunately though,

it turns out while some military
tributes were for the right reasons,

others may have been
a little more self-serving.

You know those moments when
you see a military member

sing the national anthem or carry out
the American flag at a game ?

Well, an unprecedented
congressional review has found

those moments are often actually paid
for by the Department of Defense.

Investigations show
that as many as 72 contracts

were in place with up to
50 pro sports teams.

That's right. This week
we learned the full extent

of how the US military had been
quietly paying sports teams

in exchange for seemingly
genuine emotional moments

a phenomenon usually reserved
for the Girlfriend Experience section

of Craigslist Casual Encounters.

And the details of some
of these deals are amazing.

The Air Force paid
the Dallas Mavericks

$5,000 for a package that included

throwing out T-shirts that
the Air Force itself provided.

The National Guard paid the Atlanta
Falcons to recognize its birthday,

and that is so sad.

That's what a mom does for her
socially inept third-grader.

Listen, if you come to Gregory's party
for 45 minutes,

I'll get you an Xbox One,

but you have to talk to him and you
cannot deny you came.

Now, the response to this story from
the leagues has been unimpressive.

NFL Commissioner
Roger Goodell promised,

if they find any inappropriate
payments were made,

they will be refunded in full.

And the commissioner of Major League
Baseball claimed,

the teams didn't always collect the
money in the contract,

and even when they did,

there was some important context we
should all bear in mind.

I think that our clubs, for the
minuscule amount of money involved,

it's just not material
to their business.

I think that the amount of things that
we do free for the military,

hundreds and hundreds of fold,
makes up

for whatever small payments are
involved in these contracts.

No, it doesn't.
And you just made this even grosser.

You're basically saying, maybe
we did take your money,

but we're so rich,
we didn't even need it.

And besides, we've done
so much for veterans,

a little thank you for your service
would be nice for a change.

And finally tonight,
staying in the world of sport,

the Washington Redskins,

amazingly, only the 19th most
indefensible thing about the NFL.

You may remember back in July,

a federal judge upheld a decision
by the US Patent Office

to cancel the Redskins'
trademark protection,

ruling that it does not extend to
names that may disparage people.

Well, last Friday,
the team fired back.

The team is defending its name
with an interesting tactic,

listing out the companies
with offensive names

that the government has approved.

Here on 8 News, we will not be listing
out those names,

because they are, indeed, offensive.

Okay, okay. That's fine.
That's understandable.

However, here on HBO,
we have no such restrictions,

so we will be reading
the names out in full.

Because, and I'll tell you why,

in a bid to show the Patent Office's
double standards,

the Redskins actually pointed,
in their legal brief,

to approved trademarks such as,

Slutsseeker dating services,

Capitalism Sucks Donkey Balls,

and Hot Octopuss anti-premature
ejaculation creams.

The team also cited

Edible Crotchless Gummy Panties,

Dick Balls,
and Klitoris with a K.

I could go on, so I will.

They also pointed to MILF Weed,

Make Your Own Dildo,

and Laughing My Vagina Off.

I could stop, but I won't.

Because they also mentioned
Party With Sluts,

Anal Fantasy Collection,
and Jizz Underwear.

Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention,
if you have children in the room,

they should have left before
the previous 30 seconds.

Now, the Redskins maintain
that their legal argument here

is actually quite simple.

The Washington Redskins
want to know

why their trademark is different.

The Redskins say that more than three
million trademarks have been issued

and not one of them ever
cancelled for being offensive.

Okay, you know what,
that might be a fair point.

Although, for the record,

that means the Redskins' moral defence
is now essentially,

Hey, our name
is no worse than that of

and again, this is another real
trademark cited in their case,

"the Shank the Bitch board game,"

which I'm guessing had
to be trademarked

to distinguish it from the Shank the
Bitch breakfast cereal,

and Nancy Meyers' "Shank the Bitch,"
the motion picture.

But maybe the most obnoxious part

of the Redskins' entire 82-page appeal
is when they argued...

Just about everything is potentially
disparaging to someone.

Because A, no it isn't,

and B, that's not the fucking point.

The word Redskins isn't "potentially"
disparaging to "someone."

It is "currently" disparaging
to specific individuals,

no matter how often you try to deny it
by saying things like this.

The Redskins have long said

the name is intended to honor Native
Americans, not insult them.

Look, if I may talk to Redskins' owner
Dan Snyder for a moment.

Intending to honor something is a lot
different from actually honoring it.

Although, since you seem
to feel differently,

let me suggest that everyone
now honor Dan Snyder

by renaming their fantasy
football teams...

Dan Snyder is a thin-skinned racist
whose sunglasses look like

something a tacky paedophile
might settle for.

And hey, hey, Dan, don't get upset.

Everything is potentially
disparaging to somebody.

And now, this.

And now, everybody wants to be
an outsider.

There's a big appetite for outsiders.

That used to be what they said about
you when you came in.

They still do. You just have to
listen, they still do.

US senator for four years.
Not an outsider

It's time to get someone
who's an outsider.

US senator for 12 years.
Also not an outsider.

I wake up every morning
as an outsider.

You wake up every morning as a

and have for the last five
years. Not an outsider.

Well, I can't think of
anything more of an outsider

than electing
the first woman president.

First lady for 8 years.
US senator for 8 years.

Secretary of state for four years.
Not an outsider.

Are you a plausible outsider ?

Yeah, I haven't been
in Washington D.C.

I wouldn't know how to drive.

I can barely get from Dulles
to Senator Grassley's office.

Are you fucking kidding me?

I'm very much outside the box.

OK, that's true. True, true, true.

Moving on.
Now, this year...

This year we've covered many
depressing aspects

of our criminal
justice system,

from how mandatory minimum sentencing
has crowded our prisons,

to how bail punishes the poor,

to how overstretched public defenders
threaten your right to a fair trial,

to how small municipal violations

can wind up putting you
in the fuck barrel.

And, fun fact:

If you binge-watch
those episodes in order,

you are entitled to an ice cream cone
at Dairy Queen.

So, congratulations, enjoy it.

You have earned it.

Just to be clear, it's not free,

and Dairy Queen is not
involved in any capacity.

The point is, though,

after learning about
our shattered justice system,

you've frankly earned the right to eat
your feelings

with a Peanut Buster Parfait,

the only frozen treat in America with
"nut buster" as part of its name.

Anyway, tonight, instead of talking
about how people wind up in prison,

I thought we'd talk
about how they leave,

a process known as prison re-entry.

It's particularly relevant this week

in light of what happened
just last weekend.

The largest one-time release of
federal prisoners in history

is getting underway today.

The move is in response to a loosening
of mandatory minimum sentences

for nonviolent drug offenders.

About 6,000 prisoners
are being set free today.

Yes, 6,000 mostly low-level drug
offenders were released last week,

and if you are one of them,
let me bring you up to speed

on what you may have missed
since you've been inside.

Uber's replaced cabs,
everyone pretends to like kale now,

Matthew McConaughey has an Oscar,
and in four states pot is legal,

which, for some of you, must seem like
a cruel, cruel irony.

Now, unsurprisingly,

this news was not exactly
welcomed by everyone.

When you release people like that,
you'll have an increase in crime.

Okay. No doubt in my mind.

Some believe the prisoner
release is a racial deal

that will put Americans in jeopardy.

It's part of an effort
to reduce prison overcrowding.

But who exactly are these prisoners ?
Are they dangerous ?

Yes, are they dangerous ?

Is this the purge ? Is it happening ?

Is this the pur..

Do I need to buy a mask, or will one
be provided for me ?

I don't know how the purge works.

Now, to be clear, by and large,

these prisoners were going to be
released in a couple of years anyway.

So, people are essentially
freaking out about something

that had it happened two years later,
they wouldn't even have noticed.

And it's also worth noting
that more than 600,000 people

get released from state and federal
prisons every year.

So, 6,000 more would represent an
increase of less than one percent.

And the only time anyone actually
notices a change that small

is your dad with the thermostat.

And hey, when you have your own place,
you can heat it like the tropics,

but not while he's paying the bills.

You're burning money !

we have a lot of misconceptions

about what leaving prison
is actually like.

Perhaps because it's often presented
in movies and TV as a happy moment,

when former inmates
rejoin families and friends

and put their life back together.

I'm free !

Free ! Oh, Lord !
I never thought I'd get out.

That's a good hug. That's a good hug.

What was important is
that we cut a deal,

and Kenny was finally free.

Patrick !

SpongeBob !

That's so nice.

Although, the last scene
was slightly undercut

when Patrick the starfish realized

SpongeBob had joined the Aryan
Brotherhood while inside.

Hey, hey ! He did what he had to do !

He did what he had to do !

But the sad truth is

for a surprisingly high
number of prisoners,

their time on the outside
may be brief.

The national average
of recidivism is 50%.

So, we're spending 80 billion dollars
and failing half the time, right ?

That doesn't make any sense.

No, it doesn't make any sense.

The only thing we're allowed to throw
billions at just to fail half the time

is this man, vandalized Urban
Outfitters mannequin, Johnny Depp.

The fact that around half
of people who leave prison

end up going back is horrifying.

But when you look
at the challenges they face,

it gets a little less surprising.

In fact, let me walk you through

what's it's like
when you get out of prison.

And let's just start with minute one.

Because when inmates exit that gate to
start a new life,

they could find themselves
in the middle of nowhere

with little to nothing
in their pockets.

And the lucky ones might get enough
for a bus ticket and a meal,

but even exonerated
prisoners like Glenn Ford

can walk out with little to build
a life on.

Glenn Ford was given a $20 gift card
the day he left Angola Prison.

Gave me the card for $20
and said, "Wish you luck."

How long did that last you ?

One meal.

I had some fried chicken, tea,
and the French fries came with it.

I had four dollars and change left.

A $20 gift card.

If you're exonerated, you should
probably be leaving prison

with more than you take home after a
disappointing office Secret Santa.

And hey, don't act surprised
that that gift was terrible.

Your name got picked
by Janice from accounting,

and you know she don't give a fuck.

She don't give a fuck about you.

And look, once your money runs out,

you can find yourself
hungry and desperate.

Because in many states anyone
with felony drug convictions

can be banned
from government food benefits.

And if your family
lives in public housing,

you may not be able to return home.

Because some places require tenants
to sign papers

banning relatives with convictions
from entering their homes.

And while those rules
may have been written

to reduce crime in public housing,

they're administered so broadly it can
lead to situations like this.

Geraldine Miller signed the ban
after her son robbed a bodega at 16.

Had I'd known what I know today,
I would have never signed that paper.

Miller herself now
faces eviction

after her son was caught helping her
with groceries after she became ill.

She has to go to her brother's
apartment to see her son.

NYCHA want me to throw my son away.
I can't. I can't.

We all want people who've committed
crimes to learn their lesson,

but "never help your sick
mother with groceries"

sounds more like the kind of lesson
you'd learn

from a shitty Boyscout leader.

Hey, kids, never help your sick
mother with groceries,

always know where
the exits are in a dogfight,

and never pay a stripper up front.

Scouts dismissed.

And look, restricted
access to food and shelter

could be just the beginning
of your problems.

Depending on where you live,

a felony conviction can cut you off
from everything

from voting, to a driver's license,
and this is true

one Florida county's home
weatherization program.

So, I guess Florida is perfectly happy
to put people behind bars,

but they draw the line at putting them
behind storm windows and insulation.

While you could pay for food, shelter,
and weatherization with a job,

your opportunities to get one of those
might be severely limited.

There are state and local bans

preventing ex-felons from working
as everything

from a nurse to a septic tank cleaner,

to, in Mississippi,
an alligator rancher.

As if breaking into the alligator
ranching business

wasn't already hard enough as it is.

It's all who you know who's been eaten
by an alligator in that game.

And a criminal record can even make

getting an interview
for a job difficult.

Nearly every job application
will ask a potential employee

if he or she has ever been
convicted of a felony,

a question that, in some cases,

will automatically disqualify
you from getting hired.

It makes you a little uncomfortable.

You get that anxiety
when you get to that box.

It's like, wow,
how are they gonna judge me ?

Knowing that
I committed this crime.

How are they gonna feel about this ?

And it's understandable

that an employer might want to know if
an applicant has a criminal history,

but to have that question on a form
before you've even met the person

seems a little unfair.

They may have changed
significantly since then,

and you shouldn't judge someone on
what they may be most ashamed of.

Imagine if you had once
fucked a watermelon.

Maybe it happened 14 years ago.

You're not proud of it,
and you've changed since then.

If every job application you filled
out had this question on it

with no opportunity to give context of
how drunk you were,

or the fact that you haven't even
looked at a watermelon

for over a decade,

you'd begin to feel like the deck was
stacked against you.

And some states even acknowledge how
hard this process can be.

Ohio actually has a list
of job tips for ex-offenders

with dos and don'ts, such as...
Do be honest.

But if you're asked why
you left your last job,

don't use negative words
like "went to jail".

Instead do use terms like "relocated"
or "contract ended". Both are true.

And they are. And before you judge,
that is not a lie.

Everyone tries to present the most
flattering image of themselves.

You do it when you use a filter on an
Instagram photo of yourself.

Even the queen does it.
Because this is her official portrait,

but this is who she actually is.

But deep down, she knows you can't
put that face on money.

And all of this is before
we get to the difficulty

of ex-prisoners navigating parole.

Two-thirds of parolees
who go back to prison

do so not due to a new crime,

but because of parole violations,

sometimes for reasons as simple
as missing appointments

or failing a drug test.

And for some it may be because

they're dealing with untreated
substance abuse or mental illness,

but for others
who are trying their hardest,

satisfying the conditions of parole
can be maddeningly difficult.

Look at Bilal Chatman.

He spent a decade in prison
for a nonviolent drug offense

but despite the odds,

he managed to get his life back on
track and find a job that he loved.

Things were going well
until he hit a problem

regarding scheduling meetings
with his probation officer.

So, he got off, I think,
every day about 4:00,

and so my job didn't,
I didn't get off until 4:30.

I said, "Okay, well,
can I come in early ?"

Said "No, you can't come in early."

I said, "Well, okay. Well then, can I
come a little later ?

"Can I get there at like,
5:00 if you leave at 4:30 ?"

"I don't stay and wait for you. I'm
not gonna wait for you."

So, I don't wanna lose my job.

This is the thing
that I'm supposed to be doing.

This is what I'm out here for,

is I'm working to be a productive
member of society.

I felt set up.
I felt like I was set up to fail.

I felt most people in that situation
are set up to fail.

And you know what ?
It is hard to argue with that.

Because the only way Bilal could make
an appointment at 4:00,

if he left at 4:30,

would be if he somehow
owned a DeLorean, a TARDIS,

or whatever the fuck Jean-Claude Van
Damme used in "Timecop."

I can't remember. I think he travelled
through time by doing the splits.

It's been a while, but I think it was
a splits-based system.

Also, depending on where you live,

you might not just struggle
to meet your parole officer,

you might struggle to pay him.

Because in many states
you actually have to pay

for probation and parole service.

And in Pennsylvania they charge a $60
fee just to enter the program.

And if you don't have the money for
all the fees they charge,

as one Pennsylvania parolee explains,

you can be forced to make
a truly ridiculous choice.

You go to see your parole officer and
you don't have money ?

They will hold you.

Job or no job. And if you don't pay,
you come back to jail.

Yeah. I know one thing.

I found myself selling drugs
to pay back Pennsylvania.

Oh, my God.

So, in order to pay for the program to
keep him away from dealing drugs,

he has to earn money drug dealing.

At this point, the Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections

might as well change its motto to,
"Y'all come back now, y'hear ?"

By now, you may be wondering

who is responsible for
a system this broken.

Well, interestingly, the answer is
pretty much everybody.

Many of the obstacles you've seen
originated in the tough-on-crime '90s

with surprisingly little debate.

Remember the ban on ex-prisoners
from entering public housing

which forced Geraldine Miller
to kick out her son ?

Well, here's where that started.

From now on, the rule for residents
who commit crime and peddle drugs

should be one strike and you're out.

That is a State of the Union
standing ovation

from both sides.

Almost nothing gets a full room
ovation during those speeches,

with the exception of veterans, God,
and the speech being over.

In many cases, these laws were passed
with barely a second thought.

The 1996 law letting states restrict
food stamps for ex-drug felons.

was debated in the Senate
for all of three minutes.

I've been talking about this subject

for nearly five times longer
than they did

and I'm leaving a fuck
of a lot of stuff out.

Mainly because I had to make
time for "Timecop" references.

And no one batted an eye when Bart
Gordon, a Democrat from Tennessee,

justified cutting off federal student
aid for prisoners with this logic.

Just because one blind hog may
occasionally find an acorn

doesn't mean many other
blind hogs will.

The same principle applies to giving
federal Pell Grants to prisoners.

First of all,
pigs find nuts by smell,

so a blind one is at no significant
disadvantage in an acorn hunt.

And second of all, people aren't pigs,
you fucking asshole !

And look, I know, I know...

it is not always easy

to care about the welfare
of ex-prisoners.

And some are going to re-offend no
matter what you do.

But the fact remains, over 95% of all
prisoners will eventually be released.

So, it's in everyone's interest

that we try to give them
a better chance at success.

Because under the current system,

if they do manage to overcome
all the obstacles we've set,

it's a minor miracle.

And one of the people who have managed
to beat those odds is Bilal Chatman.

I'm happy to say that he is still in
his job and he's still doing well.

And I'm even happy to say he's
actually with us this evening.

So, please welcome Bilal Chatman !

- Thanks a lot.
- Hi, Bilal.

Bilal Chatman, ladies and gentlemen.
Please, sit down.

Bilal, Bilal.

Thank you so much
for coming tonight.

I know that you were
not sure about doing this.

So, I wanna thank you
for being here.

Now, you managed to keep the job that
you were talking about in that clip.

And we saw the State of Ohio
giving advice to prisoners

about how to present their truth.

And when you were applying for jobs,

you listed your previous employer as:
What did you list ?

State of California.

The State of California. That's right.

That's technically true.

- Yeah, that is true. Yeah.
- That's true. That's true.

How is the job going ?

Absolutely fantastic. I couldn't have
scripted it another way,

any way better than what's going on.

I'm very excited I'm very fortunate
and blessed,

they've given me this opportunity.

And yes, I'm dedicated
to them. Absolutely wonderful.

I know that one of the reasons
you're nervous

is that because not everyone you work
for or with knows about the fact

that you were once in prison.

Now, you're going to work
tomorrow morning.

They may know by then. Yes.

So, what particularly are you most
worried about ?

I'm more worried about being judged
for what I used to be.

I'm not that same person.

You know, I've dedicated
myself, I've changed myself.

I'm no longer that person. You know ?

As time goes on, you become, you know,
I become a better person.

I worked really hard at the things
that I've taken from society.

And so, yeah.

So, what are the concerns,
though ? What they will think ?

Or how they might behave ?

What is the spectrum of circumstances
that you're concerned about ?

People are judgmental.
People that don't know. You know ?

I don't want anybody
to look at me as the ex-con.

I want them to look at me as the
person I am now.

I'm a supervisor.
You know, I'm a good employee.

I'm an employer.
I even hire and I fire.

So, I think they want to,

I want them to look at me as that and
continue to live with that.

They were about to both cheer and boo
you when you said that.

I guess that it's interesting
that you say that. Right ?

That you don't want to be defined by
something that you did so long ago.

'Cause we're probably guilty of giving
you a reductive term in that way.

'Cause we're having you on tonight as
Bilal the ex-prisoner.


Which is clearly not who you've been
for a long time.

Everyone has at least three
other things about them

that are interesting.

What three things about you
not related to that

would you like people to know ?

Well, I would like
people to know, you know.

Well, you know,
I grow tomatoes, you know.

Wait, wait. Wait, I'm gonna...

I'm gonna stop you... Yeah.

I'm gonna stop you
at number one there, Bilal.

'Cause that's a lot more interesting
than I think you think it is.


And I'm hoping that tomorrow,
your fellow workers

may choose, really, mainly to focus
on the fact

you grow tomatoes...

as being a more interesting
part of your life.

I know that one of the things
that's interesting

is that I know how hesitant you were
to do this.

As we talked to you through
the week...

as we even talked to you
today and tonight.

I guess a question would be, why did
you end up talking to us ?

Why are you here ?

I'm here because of the fact that, you
know, I may never do this again.

I've done other interviews.
I may never do this again

because this takes me back
to being that prisoner again.

I'm not that prisoner today.

I'm a taxpayer. You know, I work.

I'm a citizen. I'm a voter.

That's who I want to be. Those are the
things that have defined me today.

It's not what I did before. I did
things years ago that I'm ashamed of,

you know, that I don't like.

But I don't want to relive that.

I want this opportunity to be for
someone who says,

Oh, man, I can never get a chance.
I'll never have a chance.

There's always a chance.
You just keep going.

But I want the person, also,
that looks down at us

that maybe there's
a chance for other people too.

That's right.

Bilal, I can't thank you enough for
taking the time to be here.

Bilal Chatman, ladies and gentlemen,
the tomato grower !

Bilal the tomato grower !

That's our show.
Our thanks to Bilal Chatman.

We'll see you next week. Good night !

Thanks. Thanks, so much.


Series II
End of episode 33