UnPrisoned: Is the Hulu Series Based on Real Life?


Hulu’s comedy-drama series, ‘UnPrisoned,’ follows the story of Paige Alexander, a therapist and single mom whose life is upturned after the arrival of her father, Edwin. He’d been in prison for the past seventeen years, and the upheavals in his life led to a tumultuous life for Paige, the repercussions of which still haunt her decisions. With his return, she is forced to pay attention to and resolve the issues she’d been ignoring all this while.

Created and written by Tracy McMillan, the show presents a realistic portrayal of a family that has been through a lot. Despite presenting its unique perspective, the story opens to the audience, who find several aspects relatable. If this realistic nature of the show makes you wonder whether it is inspired by a true story, then here’s what you need to know.

UnPrisoned: Inspired by True Events

Yes, ‘UnPrisoned’ is inspired by the real story of creator-writer Tracy McMillan. The basic premise of the show, focusing on the fractured relationship of Paige and Edwin, is plucked directly from the writer’s life. McMillan, who is also a relationship expert, a social media influencer, and a self-help blogger, wrote the character of Paige in her own image, giving her the same childhood and, consequentially, the same struggles that McMillan went through in her life. The idea for writing ‘UnPrisoned’ came to her while pondering the possibility of meeting her dad, who had been serving a prison sentence of 19 years.

“Even about ten years before he got out, I started thinking about what it was going to be like to be in a relationship with him for basically the first time, outside of like one year when I was very young, like eight, and then when I was very, very young, like 0 to 3. But outside of that time, I had never really been in a relationship with my dad where we would go to lunch, be in the world, or have anything to do with each other outside of a prison visiting room. So I started to imagine what it would be like to establish a relationship with my dad again in the world and have him meet my son,” McMillan explained.

Once she started thinking about it, she got anxious, leading her to concoct a scenario where he would come and live with her and her son. She’d talked about the complicated relationship with her father and how it affected her relationships with other men in her 2011 book, ‘I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway: A Memoir.’ McMillan considers ‘UnPrisoned’ its sequel.

In describing the issues she and Paige face, McMillan got “very scientific” regarding “the concepts of relationships that are in the show.” “Because as a relationship expert, I come from journalism. I’m not interested in conventional wisdom. I’m interested in the science of being a human being, how we attach, and how we unfold certain aspects of our relationship life. There’s a lot of in the last ten years amazing relationship science that is out there,” she added.

Image Credit: Kelsey McNeal/Hulu

McMillan stated that her intention behind creating ‘UnPrisoned’ was “to shift hearts and minds around people who have been affected by mass incarceration.” Described as “an American story about healing” by showrunner Yvette Lee Bowser, the show aims to focus on what comes after the life of incarceration for people like Edwin. Actress Kerry Washington, who plays Paige Alexander, said: “We tell a lot of stories about what it’s like to go in, what it’s like on the inside — but really excavating the journey of being a returning citizen, of trying to reenter into society is so important. And telling the stories of what it’s like to love somebody who’s a formerly incarcerated person is so important.”

For McMillan, ‘UnPrisoned,’ at its core, is a story about a father and a daughter. “It’s a show about a woman who’s trying to have good relationships. It’s a show about a man who’s trying to do right by his family,” she said, emphasizing that these are the things everyone can relate to, no matter if they or someone they love has been to prison. Considering all this, it is clear that McMillan poured her heart and soul into the story, which reflects her life. There are aspects where the show diverges from McMillan’s story and takes a life of its own. Its foundation, however, is grounded in the writer’s real-life story.

Read More: Where is UnPrisoned Filmed?