Smiling Behind the Sun: An Interview with RL Exclusive

written by Michael Fischer

Libyans sometimes refer to being arrested and taken away without warning as being “taken behind the sun.” This interview series celebrates—through conversations with formerly-incarcerated artists and their allies—the ways in which an artistic, creative life can transmute the impact and redefine the legacy of an experience within the Prison Industrial Complex.

On his 18th birthday, rapper and spoken word artist RL Exclusive was transferred from the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center to Cook County Jail, having been tried as an adult at the age of 16. When new laws governing juvenile sentencing recently passed in Illinois, RL was freed and his sentence retroactively thrown out. Now, facing an upcoming retrial for his case just as his third mixtape is set for release, RL sat down with me to talk about his new music, the unique power of the Free Write Arts & Literacy program, and why labeling someone “troubled” has the potential to ruin their life.

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