After 20 Years in Prison, Ex Con Sees Filming as a New Start

After 20 Years in Prison, Ex Con Sees Filming as a New Start

(Crystal A. Proxmire, 3/30/2011)

 

When Dez Mansell was released from prison on parole in 2008, the bright optimism of freedom was overshadowed by the fear and insecurity of figuring out how to make an honest living.

 

“I’ve been a liar, cheater and a thief since I was 12,” Mansell said.  “I have made a very stark transformation.  But still, it’s hard for people, especially employers, to trust me.”  The 54 year old former heroin addict was facing 45 years for an assortment of non-violent theft-related crimes, including stealing a car.  Towards the end of his incarceration he began reading books by Wayne Dyer and viewing his life as something of value.  He became a substance abuse clerk helping other inmates overcome their addictions.

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After his release, Mansell turned in over 250 resumes and was turned down from jobs flipping burgers and mopping floors.  But thanks to a couple rays of sunshine, Mansell has seen some hope.  He connected with counselors at the Ferndale Career Center, who helped him find his footing in Michigan’s recently booming film industry.

 

“I love the people at the Ferndale Career Center’s Michigan Works office,” Mansell said.  “Heather Coleman is such a dynamic individual.  She could take a job anywhere as a headhunter making hundreds of thousands of dollars, but she stays right here in the trenches, helping people like me find work who really need it.

 

‘Brett Sutton is my case manager.  He has been a key to my success.  He was instrumental in helping me decide what training to do, and he really to the time to listen to my situation and help me find a career path that would work.”

The FCC helped Mansell get State-funded training in the film industry.  He was able to take FIT (Film Industry Training) at S3 group.  He also went to an open house at MPI (Motion Picture Institute) in Troy.  The experiences and the connections he made helped him earn a scholarship at Unity Studios in Allen Park.

 

Mansel combined these training opportunities with prior experience in the adult film industry in the 1980s.  “I was on-screen for a couple of them, but it was embarrassing and I was too self-conscious to do more.  But they let me work on the crew and I learned a lot about video production.  It wasn’t legal, and who would have thought I would use those skills again,” he said with a grin.

 

The 5’11, 225 lb. man with long dark hair, biker-style mustache and muscular tattooed arms, is happy to have gotten some legitimate on-screen roles and behind the scenes gigs.  As a robot handler in Reel Steel he got to work closely with Hugh Jackman for three months of production.  “He was a very likable guy,” Mansell said.  “Introduced me to his wife and kids.  And when he heard it was my birthday he came up between takes, slapped me on the back and wished me a happy birthday.  He was great on set, and he realizes that the crew has the ability to make him look good or look bad in the film.  No matter how much money you’re making, everyone on set works together and depends on each other.”

In the movie Red Dawn he played his most ironic role, a prisoner of war.  He’s also worked on other projects like LOL, The Double, and Little Murder.

 

The only time Mansell’s past has been an issue was when he was once asked to leave a set after background checks were done.

 

The jobs provided him with just over $10,000 in income last year, although the past few months have been painfully slow.  “With Governor Snyder taking away the film incentives, he’s taking away the best chance I have to work,” Mansell said.  “I don’t get it.  The State spent all this money training me to work in the film industry, and now they’re sending away any jobs I could get with this training.  I guess if I have to, I’ll take this education I got – paid for by the State of Michigan – and go make money someplace else.  It just doesn’t make sense though.  The jobs were here.  I was earning a living and so were a lot of other people.  All these people started businesses geared toward the film industry too.  What’s going to happen to all of them?  I can say that I am a direct beneficiary of the film credits.”

 

Mansel recently attended a film industry panel in Livonia, where he met State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton.  Lipton said that people like Mansell are exactly the reason why she is fighting to restore the Film incentives that have been cut by Governor Snyder.  “It was just amazing to hear his story,” Lipton said.  “I mean, you hear all kinds of stories along the way of how the film industry has changed people’s lives.  Especially since the budget has come out, there are people saying this is what we want.  …It’s been so drastically cut back that for all intensive purposes it doesn’t do what it was intended to. …It ties our hands in our ability to compete with other states.”  Lipton said she and colleagues in the State House have been pushing for hearings so more of this info can be included in the debate.  Other tax incentives are facing the chopping block as well, she said, including a Brownfield Redevelopment Credit and a Historical Development Credit.

Tax credits to companies that chose to film in Michigan was approved by the State in 2007 and a recent Ernest & Young study shows that they bring in $6 of spending for every $1 of actual filming expense.  In Ferndale businesses such as Mother Fletchers, Vogue Vintage and AJs Music Café and others have benefitted from productions in the area.

 

Without the film industry, Mansell is scraping by cutting lawns, though he is not sure how long he can stay in the area without employment.

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