Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove chose the title of this post, not I. Yet this subject has become one of great interest to me, personally. I know a man who is awaiting trial for murder. I know him well. I’ve known him since he was eleven! I never thought that we’d takl to each other through a microphone with glass separating us!
For every season, there is a message. “Do not be afraid.” “Let my people go.” “Take up your cross.” “I have a dream.”
In America today, I’ve come to believe, God’s Word for us is, “Go to hell.”
Unbeknownst to most Americans, our justice system changed radically in the late 20th century. Like most countries in the modern West, roughly one in a thousand Americans were in prison in the early 70s. Today, we incarcerate 1 in 107 Americans. Over 7 million adults are currently in jails, in prison, or on probation. More than 65 million US citizens now have a criminal record, while another 11 million undocumented people live outside the the law, subject to seizure and deportation.
Legal scholar William Stuntz has described the past 40 years as the “collapse of America’s criminal justice system.” Noting the ways “law and order” has landed more black men in prison today than were in slavery in 1850, Michelle Alexander calls it the “new Jim Crow.” Or, as Piper Kerman puts it, “orange is the new black.”
But none of this analysis captures what one person experiences when he is cut off from his community, denied any opportunity for growth, subject to constant humiliation and threat of bodily harm, and told that he is permanently condemned to this status of “criminal” or “illegal.” What does it mean to be told, “You’ll rot in prison”?