Mos Def's character has the name "Edward Bunker". Edward Bunker is a real life criminal turned actor (thus proving that people can change, in line with the theme of the movie), who appeared in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and in Runaway Train (1985), which he also co-wrote. When he was sent to prison, Bunker was the youngest man there.
The film's writer, Richard Wenk, has reported that he originally conceived of the project with himself as writer and director and, before shopping it around to anyone else, first approached Richard Donner because they had a struck up a good relationship when Donner really liked his rewrite of a script for a Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), even though that script was not used. Wenk said that upon hearing his pitch for his new film, Donner "liked it so much that he didn't want me to direct it; he wanted to direct." Wenk tells this story in the documentary about screen writing, Tales from the Script (2009).
Eddie Bunker, played by Mos Def, cites Chuck Berry as an example of a man who was able to change his life after getting out of prison. Two years later, Mos Def played the part of Chuck Berry in the movie Cadillac Records (2008).