They were gang members, drug dealers, violent predators. But also fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.  Each spent time behind bars. Now they’re out and trying to live meaningful lives. Here are their stories. 

Episode 5: “A moment that changed our lives”

Orlando Cruz
As a youth in Boston, Orlando wound up shooting two of his friends during a dispute. He spent time in a youth facility, and then struggled to turn his life around. He’s now a successful practicing attorney.

If you bumped into me the wrong way, I would’ve probably shot you. My goal in life is to be helpful now.

Episode 4: “A choice I felt I had to make”

Taymullah Abdur-Rahman

From childhood stardom to drug dealing, violence and jail, to faith and redemption. In this special episode, Tay turns the mic around on himself as he sits down with Joel to tell his own amazing roller-coaster of story.

I looked at my little son’s face and I thought, I want you to be better than me. And I thought, I gotta change. Right now, or never.

Episode 3: “I knew what I was doing was crazy”

Ernest “Bang” Phaire

Both of Bang’s parents were addicts who couldn’t care for him. He started sticking up drug dealers at age 12. He became a big-time dealer and served a nine year sentence. Inside he trained to become a barber. After getting out, he opened his own barbershop.  His proudest achievement: he’s putting his daughter through college.

In prison, I was anti-social. If I didn’t know you I didn’t want to talk to you.  But it turned out that this dude that I thought was my enemy — became one of my best friends, became a brother. God gave me a shot.

Episode 2: “Before, I was pure impulse. Now, I think about consequences”

David “Crunchy” DePina

By his late teens, David had been ambushed, shot and wounded in two separate incidents. At least five of his friends had been murdered. He lived in constant fear for his life. He never left home without a gun, which led to the tragedy that sent him to prison for 10 years.

It was real tough, seeing how much time had passed. I never lived the type of life I’m trying to live now. I was on the street, and then I was in prison.

Episode 1: “I had to save myself first”

Abrigal Forrester

By age 19, Abrigal thought he had given up drug dealing —  only to get lured back in and caught in a federal sting operation. He served 10 years, but he knew from the moment he went in that he had to use his time wisely.  He’s now  Director of Community Action at the Madison Park Development Corporation, working with at-risk youth.

I was 11 or 12. This guy came up on me, pulled out a gun. He wanted my belt and I gave it to him.  I’ll never forget what that did to me.

Host: Taymullah Abdur-Rahman

I grew up in Roxbury. I knew many criminals as a child. In fact for some time, I indulged in a negative lifestyle myself. But after changing my life and walking into the state prison system as a young man of faith, I was not prepared for the personal stories, the tears and the friendships I would make. 

I assumed I wouldn’t be affected by counseling criminals. But the near decade of deep spiritual / emotional work I did as a chaplain, talking with hundreds of men from ages 17 to 60, turned out to be the most powerful and enlightening of my professional life. 

As Adiche tells us, “The danger in a stereotype is not that it is untrue, but that it is incomplete.”  As a child and even into my adult years, and in spite of my own brushes with the law, I adopted an unconscious prejudice toward criminals. I believed that they had all simply chosen their paths. But getting to know these men showed me I was wrong. I met brothers, fathers, husbands and sons, born into circumstances without options, childhoods filled with psychological and physical abuse, parental neglect, poverty and fear. What real choice did they ever have? 

During our years together, I got to know many of the men quite well. I was humbled by how thoughtful, engaging, contemplative… and remorseful they were.

I eventually left the prison system and accepted a chaplaincy and teaching position at Harvard. But these men and their stories stayed with me.  I wanted the world to see and hear them as I had. 

I hope that these stories serve to humanize these men for others, who like me, had wrongly prejudged them. This is their truth, their stories, their pain…these are Exconversations.

Boston-based artist Brenden Lehman helped us mark the launch of the ex-conversations podcast with this painting. 

Our Goals

Discourage at-risk youth from making choices that lead to prison by highlighting the regret and pain these ex-cons have experienced.

Humanize those who’ve paid their debt to society and now want to prove their worth as productive citizens.

Give hope to those who are still incarcerated but on their way back into society, that building a life of worth is possible, with hard work and dedication.

The Team

Taymullah Abdur-Rahman

Taymullah Abdur-Rahman worked for seven years as a chaplain for the Massachusetts correctional system, counseling prisoners. He’s also held the position of chaplain for Harvard University. He’s taught graduate students at Harvard’s Divinity School and currently teaches at Facing History and Ourselves. He holds a Master of Arts in Global Inter-religious Leadership, and he writes a blog for the Huffington Post. As a young teen, he was lead singer in “Perfect Gentleman,” a singing group with a top ten single that toured with New Kids on The Block. Now a married father of seven, he grew up in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

Joel Olicker

Joel Olicker is an award-winning filmmaker and TV producer. His 2015 series “Coming Back with Wes Moore” about veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, aired nationally on PBS and was funded by American Express and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For over 20 years, through his company Powderhouse, Joel has produced or supervised dozens of series and documentaries for cable networks like Discovery Channel, History Channel, as well as for Boston’s premiere public television station WGBH-TV, and for corporations and non-profit organizations. Joel has taught documentary-making at Hampshire College and at the Maine Film and TV workshops. With Exconversations, Joel is returning to his radio roots. Prior to his television career Joel was a radio programmer and an audio producer.

Douglas Stevens

Douglas Stevens is an award-winning audio and music producer.  As a co-founder of Handsome Brothers Music, he’s managed and recorded thousands of soundtracks for TV, films, advertising, corporate, and the web and has worldwide music placements. At SiriusXM satellite radio he created and produced his own comedy music program that ran for 8 seasons. He’s also the author of several popular comedy music albums. Today his company, Creative Audio and Music, helps produce a number of podcasts including That’s Some American Muslim Life, Second Start, MedPEP, and Sound Health.

Danielle Myers

Danielle Myers is an experienced multimedia producer and editor. She has created films and and soundscapes for museums across the US, and has contributed to numerous television programs and feature-length documentaries. Danielle has also produced and edited videos for many non-profit organizations. In college, Danielle hosted her own radio show for two years, and she is excited to return to the medium through her work on Exconversations.

Robert Kirwan

Rob is award-winning filmmaker, cinematographer, and editor. His work has been featured on the PBS science series NOVA, the Smithsonian Network, National Geographic, Discovery, History and many others  Highly sought-after for his editorial talents, Rob has mentored dozens of young editors and post-production artists.

Contact Us

Music Credits

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

Ataxia” by Tab Anitek, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Nothin’ Doin’ 1.3” by Ari de Niro, licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0
BLUE SOX2” by Glass Boy, licensed under CC BY-NC-CD 3.0
money” by Jahzzar, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Questing” by Ari de Niro, licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0
Burst” by dustmotes, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Divine Invasion” by Tab Anitek, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Dubs Up” by Ari de Niro, licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0
get out” by Jahzzar, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Episode 4

Exconversations theme song by Drama Family Productions
“Loop 1” by Alex Starfield
Excellent Adventure” by Ari de Niro, licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0
Dubs Up” by Ari de Niro, licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0
“Unfolding” by Handsome Brothers
BLUE SOX2” by Glass Boy, licensed under CC BY-NC-CD 3.0
Burst” by dustmotes, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
“Loop 4” by Alex Starfield
Ataxia” by Tab Anitek, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Feeling Your Energy” by The Passion HiFi, licensed under CC BY 3.0
Like a Ho” by The Passion HiFi, licensed under CC BY 3.0
“Hesitation” by Handsome Brothers
“Loop 8-20” by Alex Starfield
“Get Out” by Handsome Brothers
“Loop 8-18” by Alex Starfield
“Unsteady” by Handsome Brothers

Episode 5

© 2017 Taymullah Abdur-Rahman and Powderhouse Productions