Navigating the Road Home
August 29, 2023 | Devin Fei-Fan Tau
Like most people, I considered myself a “law-abiding citizen” with no connection to people who have committed crimes or the justice system other than what I read about or see on TV and in the movies. But as a filmmaker, I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to change my mind. The Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision (ICAOS) and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) commissioned me to direct and produce the feature documentary The Road Home, which provides a rare chance to see how people transition from inside the justice system to living their lives outside of it.
Showcasing six people on probation or parole, The Road Home provides an intimate look at the importance of interstate compact transfers. These transfers allow formerly incarcerated people to move to a new state, where they can have a stronger support system while on community supervision.
My film crew and I crisscrossed the country, interviewing over 30 people affiliated with the rehabilitation process, such as probation and parole officers. What we found was an intersectionality of everyone involved, from different races, backgrounds, socioeconomic groups, and regions. It became clear that there is no “them” or “us,” but a collective “we” and how we are all interconnected.
Another striking aspect of making this film was learning that truly everybody has, or wants, a home they can go to. So, even though I was making a film about the homeward journey of specific individuals, I was also on a journey of my own to find out what that meant. As a gay Asian-American immigrant, I can understand what it is to be different and outside of the mainstream. Yet, I was humbled by people’s vulnerability and their willingness to open up about their lives, especially since their personal experiences have taught them to do the opposite.
As I delved into the stories of Dawn, Sammy, Leo, Eddie, Lili, and Kevin and their desire to “go home,” I came face to face with how I, too, have needed to define and redefine home throughout my life. I saw firsthand the power of different perspectives and walking in others’ shoes.
In my life, I have had chances to shape my future and pursue my dreams, often despite obstacles placed in my way by societal conventions and norms. I see now how the opportunity for redemption, even if not forgiveness, can empower people to change and heal.
Some of those involved in the project got their wish, and some didn’t. People are imperfect and the community supervision system is complex and multi-layered. I’m grateful for the understanding I gained about human nature and our desire for that safe and secure place we can call home.
Devin Tau is a gay Asian-American filmmaker releasing his third feature film, The Road Home, a finalist for the 2023 Media for a Just Society Award. He has previously released two other films, the documentary Who’s on Top? (2021) narrated by George Takei and the thriller Half Sisters (2022). Tau’s storytelling reflects his reaction to nearly four decades of cultural silence imposed on him by his native and adopted cultures from his earliest years as an immigrant to the United States.