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"The Honest Struggle" focuses on Darrel “Sadiq” Davis, who was released from prison in 2013. // Courtesy of Justin Mashouf

American documentary The Honest Struggle focuses on formerly incarcerated Muslim’s reintegration

The Honest Struggle
Directed by Justin Mashouf; now available on Amazon and iTunes; coming soon to Google Play

L.A.-based director Justin Mashouf was contacted by a Christian chaplain at a prison in South Dakota who was looking for people to correspond with Muslim prisoners over a decade ago, and agreed to participate. As a documentary filmmaker still in college, he was on the lookout for his next project and he began filming his conversations with the inmates. But it wasn’t until 2010, when he discovered a program for formerly incarcerated Muslims in Chicago, that he found his film, which became The Honest Struggle.

The Chicago program is called Green ReEntry, and is run by the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

“The idea was to bring them home, to these homes, and then give them green home rehabilitation skills by working on a place, and then having that home be additional housing for more men coming out,” Mashouf explains.

The documentary focuses on Darrel “Sadiq” Davis, who was released in 2013.

He was not one of the inmates Mashouf was already in touch with, rather Mashouf was introduced to him through IMAN and was able to follow him from the moment he was released from prison until the moment he left the program.

“And he also had a very unique story: He was a gang leader in the 1970s; he was also a singer—kind of a very outgoing personality,” Mashouf says.

It quickly became clear to him and the rest of his team that Sadiq should be the main focus of the film.

The Honest Struggle focuses on the challenges Sadiq faces after reentering society. Though the program provides job training, Sadiq wound up needing surgery shortly after being released and was not able to perform physical labour for six months. He faced the temptation of turning to old contacts for opportunities to make some money, and relied on his faith and the other men in Green ReEntry to see him through.

Sadiq relies on his faith while going through reentry. // Courtesy of Justin Mashouf

Asked whether he was ever worried that Sadiq would relapse, Mashouf says, “You really never know. Sometimes when you’re around somebody, they don’t want to reveal their darkest inner dilemmas to you, so that’s one of the challenges as a filmmaker is really just figuring it out.”

Mashouf says The Honest Struggle was an important story for him to tell because of Malcolm X.

“I identify as Muslim and one of my first exposures to Islam was through the story of Malcolm X, and [as] just kind of somebody who grew up in a bit of a privileged upbringing, to read about his story and his experience in prison, and how somebody could transform for the better in such terrible circumstances was always a point of interest for me,” he says. “So then as an adult, that story was always resonating, so when it literally landed in my inbox in college, I took it to heart and said ‘This is something I should probably look in on.’”

Mashouf hopes that his film reveals the humanity of the formerly incarcerated to his audience, and that people don’t reject them out of hand.

“In many ways, you basically come out to another type of prison. You’re being imprisoned by other people socially, and that’s a really devastating thing to happen to people,” he says. “So what I’m hoping is that people will be a little less relentless and will see the humanity of those who are coming home and truly give them a second chance.”

To that end, Mashouf and his team are trying to turn the doc into an educational tool and have developed a discussion guide that they hope to use in community workshops.

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