By Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
New Haven, Connecticut
Jan. 11, 2017
What should I do, as a white man, prison minister who was incarcerated for a white-collar crime, and as Executive Director of a Connecticut criminal justice nonprofit, to walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr.? How do I apply his words, that are so easy to read but so difficult to put into action? How do I honor his memory in these most challenging and controversial of times?
The moment of our comfort and convenience is certainly over. This is true on the national level where we have new, untested leadership. And this is also true here in Connecticut, where the budget crisis has made the state unable to do what is just, and fair, and safe.
Our state government has closed prisons and reduced the prison population to the lowest level since the 1970’s. This is a good thing.
I urge everyone, and especially my fellow criminal justice colleagues, to wake up.
The fiscal crisis has caused the state to terminate the funding for – and close down – our community-based prisoner reentry behavioral health programs. This means thousands of people, many or most of them people of color, will be released from jails and prisons this year without access to therapy, life skills training, mental health services, substance abuse counseling, housing opportunities, education, or even minimum wage jobs. I propose that without this critical support, most are going to recidivate and will go back to prison in record numbers. But not before they return to the very behavior for which they were incarcerated in the first place. This is a very bad thing – for everyone.
How big is this problem? Michelle Alexander, in discussing her seminal book “The New Jim Crow” cites that there are more African American men in prison and jail, or on probation and parole, than were slaves before the start of the Civil War.
The theologian Audre Lorde observed that, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” If this is so, we need to find new tools. We need to stop groveling. With fewer government dollars to support our missions, we can get creative. We can seek out and find solutions even if the state has limited ability help us. We can envision a real private/public partnership, with compassionate foundations and other institutional sources willing to fund our justice reform efforts. These funding sources will provide support for our advocacy in promoting change and will reward our evidence-based impact in reducing recidivism – and hold our feet to the fire if we do less.
So, where do I stand at this moment of challenge and controversy? I will do as Dr. King did – do my best. Do anything and everything it takes. And like Dr. King, take comfort in knowing that – if we really work together for it – we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
Bridgeport, New Haven
Jacques Johan Swanepoel Sorry but I rather walk in the footsteps of Christ rather than any men or woman on this earth.
Bob Russel (CIPA 08) Hi There; In my personal opinion by doing personal posting like this will certainly honour the life of MLK. Thank you.
Connie Shelley And, since the incarceration rate for people of color is much higher than for a nice white middle class males a whole population is kept from voting, housing, jobs and any kind of social benefits. As R. Rohr points out, everything is connected in the Great Chain of Being and if I fail to see the Imago Dei in anything, I have broken the chain. It is the denial of our connectedness that allows us to feel and act superior and allows the private prisons to be a burgeoning industry in our country. Hmmm…..looking for Imago Dei in our new White House and cabinet…don’t wanna break the chain.
Darrell Allen I have experienced seasons of homelessness along with seasons of jail time. In fact, on July 16, 2004 I was supposed to have received 25 years without no chance of parole; but God’s unconditional love, grace, and mercy showed up in the power of the Holy Spirit and I only ended up doing 6 months. I think the real question should be: “What Should We Do to Walk like or imitate Jesus?” I say this because Martin Luther King Jr showed us the unconditional love, grace, and mercy of Jesus in his every day walk of life. He was even willing to die for his belief in doing God’s perfect will and becoming a ultimate sacrifice for Jesus’ ministry of love for one another (John 13:3-35; 15:13).