ABC’s For Life is the latest in a longline of successful projects produced by, and often featuring the talents of, 50 Cent. The first season of the series, which began in February 2020, has received solid reviews and acclaim albeit ABC has yet to indicate whether the show will be renewed for a second.
The well-written offering is inspired by the life story of prisoner turned attorney Isaac Wright Jr., who himself was wrongfully convicted of a kingpin charge in 1991. As with any televised interpretations of reality, suspension of disbelief in the eyes of the perspective viewer can be waylaid by great acting, great direction, and writers who are dedicated to creating fully realized human beings rather than virtual cardboard cutouts with human faces.
While never shying away from the injustice and brutality of prison existance,For Life is populated by humans of all kinds. Actor Dorian Missick, who portrays Jamal Bishop, recently spoke to BET.com to discuss how his character’s journey this season and why the rules of masculinity in prison are so closely related to street culture and more.
BET.com: There was a scene this season in episode 11 between Jamal and his ex-lover that was really just simply an acknowledgement of one human to another. But it took place in full view in the waiting area of a correctional facility which really told of Jamal’s mental state. What was it like portraying that?
Dorian Missick: Being a heterosexual male, you need to get past whatever hang ups you may have about what it is to be in a relationship with another person. But when it comes down to it, it’s just an intimate relationship between two human beings and what that feels like when you need to make the decision. In order for me to do what I had to do next, I had to let go.
I just plugged into something in my own life that kind of mirrored that scenario. I have definitely been in that space before in a relationship like in order for us to get to where we need to, we have to separate from each other. That may be for the best. I had to tap into that. It was the element between the holding of the hands, the looking around the room, that kind of thing. It just heightened it.
I just kind of allowed the words to direct me in that scene. The other actor who was working with me was incredible as well, so it helped quite a bit.
BET: Could you discuss the dualistic nature of prison rules regarding the expression of masculinity within prison walls? For example, your character’s open display of affection in the visiting area was mentioned by Bobby Latimore, played by Hassan Johnson, in an attempt to leverage that information against him. Does this really happen?
Dorian Missick: I’ve never been incarcerated, but growing up and been around them, if I went by probable percentages more people who have been locked up engage in these relationships than have not, when it comes to my age range. I’m 44 so I’m smack dab in the middle of 90s Hip-Hop culture. During that period in time, a lot of our male examples of masculinity came from people who spent time in prison.
Many of the rules on our streets were also rules that were generated in the prison system. The guys that were coming home and teaching us about masculinity also spent time incarcerated. That’s the only way that I can really justify that. You know, we do this. Numbers alone tell us that if you put 100 people in a room, a certain percentage of people will have had some sort of homosexual experience in their lives. So, if you think that doesn’t touch a certain community then I think that’s kind of ignorant.
What we’re learning is in jail and in street culture a lot of the times it’s your actions and your loyalties that determine your position in life. People can overlook a lifestyle that they may not agree with if you can deliver what they say they can.
BET.com: Do you think this is a first for television?
Dorian Missick: I’ve never seen anything like that explored in television. A lot of times, when they show prison culture, especially homosexuality in prison culture, it’s very much like a predatory perspective. But there are people out there who are just existing. They’re existing in prison, but outside of prison that’s still the life they would have lived, as opposed to “gay for the stay” as people say. This is this man’s reality, and the persona that he has to put on in prison is actually a façade, as is the case for a lot of Black men out on the street.
A lot of what I learned about being a man was from the older guys in the neighborhood. It was boys teaching boys how to be men based on concepts and not on reality or anything having to do with manhood. For example, 50’s character, Cassius loves that lifestyle. He loves being a bully. That’s how he identifies himself because, in the world, he has no identity.
It’s the same thing on the streets with gang culture. Then it comes to the point where it’s like the chicken or the egg when it comes to cultural influences; did it start in the streets and become prison culture, or did it start in the prisons and become street culture? We came to this country as prisoners! It started from Day one.
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