Barred from the Workforce: The Hidden Side of Life After Incarceration - Reuben Jonathan Miller

You want to think of the workplace as a level playing field, where anyone with grit, determination, and an honest desire to work can succeed. But this is not always the reality, especially if you’re one of the 80 million Americans with some sort of a criminal record. For these people, and for the 1 in 2 Americans who love them, the world of work can come to resemble an impossible labyrinth, filled with dead ends, locked doors, and shortcuts back to prison. Once your life has been touched by incarceration, even when you’re free again, you’re never truly free. These are the research findings of our guest, Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, who is a sociologist at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Miller’s 15-year study of people leaving the prison system found that those who want most to participate in the working economy are often hampered by policies that restrict their movements, keep them from finding housing and employment, and penalize any family and friends who might help them. Dr. Miller’s new book is, Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration.

Scripture References

  • Matthew 25:31-46
  • Jeremiah 27:1-15
  • Leviticus

Additional Resources Referenced

Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, by Reuben Jonathan Miller

Thanks for Listening!

If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us.

< Back to Making It Work podcast episode list


​​Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

You want to think of the workplace as the level playing field where anyone with grit, determination and an honest desire to work can succeed, but this is not always the reality, especially if you're one of the 80 million Americans with some sort of a criminal record. For these people, and for the one in two Americans who love them, the world of work can come to resemble an impossible labyrinth filled with dead ends, locked doors and shortcuts back to prison. Once your life has been touched by incarceration, even when you're free again, you're never truly free. These are the research findings of our guest, Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, who is a sociologist at the University of Chicago, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

Miller's 15-year study of people leaving the prison system found that those who most want to participate in the working economy are often hampered by policies that restrict their movements, keep them from finding housing and employment, and penalize any family and friends who might help them. Dr. Miller's new book is Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration. Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, welcome to the Making it Work podcast.

Reuben Jonathan Miller: Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here with you today.

LA: I'm really excited for this conversation. I wonder if you could start by just giving us a scale of the number of people who are facing what you call the afterlife of mass incarceration.

RJM: I think you did a fantastic job leading us in. You talk about the 80 million Americans who have some sort of a criminal record, and that's really, that's really powerful. So we know that there are about two million people who are in an American jail or prison, 2.3 or 2.4 any given year, but there's something like five million people on probation or parole, and so we know that that's twice the number of people. And probation and parole almost necessarily means that you have what, what we might call a felony record, and this is, this is what we will call a serious conviction, and so typically this means that you go to prison, not jail, for a year or more, and you'd spend time on probation or parole under, under state supervision, so you have a probation or parole officer, somebody watching you, somebody talking to you about your life and how you go about spending time in the world, spending time with your family, but also someone to check in with, someone to, to tell you which programs to go to, this sort of thing.

But even that number, the five million number, which by the way is twice the size of the US jail or prison population, but gets probably half the attention, are the number of people who pass through a jail each year, and so, we have to switch the unit of analysis, we've been talking more or less in what social scientists will call a Point-in-Time count, meaning on any given day, how many people are in a given institution. But if you switch the unit of analysis to think about the number of people processed through an institution, this is the best way to think about how jail touches American families. There's something like 12 million people who pass through an American jail in this country each year, 12 million people, this means folks who are being arrested and held anywhere from a couple of hours to many years, in jail.

Most of which go home without any charges ever being filed, about... Well over half of whom are, are in pre-trial status, meaning that we don't know yet if they've done anything.

Okay, anyway, so, so that's, that's the jail, but even that number, that 12 million figure is eclipsed by the 19 million Americans we know who are alive today who live with a felony record. This is whether or not they're on probation or parole, this is whether or not they've completed their sentences, these are the number of people alive today who have it. And then of course, that larger number, that 80 million, and so that can be folks who have been touched by the criminal justice system in any way, where that could be any kind of criminal charge that people have, whether or not that, that charge is dropped. And so that's, that's more or less the landscape.

We focused, I should say, on the 2.2-2.3 million people who are in American prison, which is egregious. We, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the history of the western world, for sure, and we're by far the world's leader in what we might call the race to incarcerate, but that number is 10 times smaller than the number of people with a felony record much smaller than the number of people with a criminal record at all.

LA: And so when we're getting beyond this Point-in-Time analysis, as you mentioned, when we're looking at the people who have any kind of record, criminal record tainting their background check, these are people who are, in theory, we would say they're rehabilitated, they're free, but they still face employment and economic challenges trying to build their lives back after prison.

RJM: Okay I know people who've been free or at least almost free for decades, 20 and 30 years, and can't travel internationally because they broke a drug law when they were 18, when we were much harder on drug laws than we are now. A good example of this is a woman in the book, who I call Yvette, who... Who was charged with basically possession with the intent to distribute drugs, and what happened was after being basically trafficked as a child, she meets a young undercover officer at a bar, so this is already a vulnerable woman. And she meets an undercover officer, a man she calls handsome, and she had just been trafficked, she's just been taken across the border to Mexico to work in strip clubs, this kind of thing, in Mexico as a child, as a 16-year-old. She's home now, and she's addicted. And another handsome man, so the first handsome man trafficked her, a second handsome man who happened to be an undercover officer convinced her to deliver a package of drugs and then arrested her for delivering the package of drugs.

Anyway, well, that was in the '80s, when we were in the grips of, of the beginnings of the war on drugs, where it was much... The rhetoric was, was much higher, we didn't, we didn't think that addiction shouldn't be criminalized, we're in a different place now. But it doesn't matter that we're in a different place now because our social policy is almost never retroactive, [laughter] and so, and so the thing that she got arrested for 30 years ago that she wouldn't have been arrested for today prevents her from traveling internationally today, prevents her from getting the kinds of jobs she wants to get today. She's a mother in the church, she's raised a family, she's a retired social worker, she runs four, literally four social justice, social reform organizations, she helps the poor, she, she visits the widows. She sits with the fatherless, she cares for the orphans, this is her role, she's a bonafide Christian woman who has turned her life around in an incredible and powerful way, and everybody who knows her knows that, and it doesn't matter. She can't get a passport.

LA: I, I hear the tremendous weight that these stories must put on you as someone who has, over the course of your career, interviewed probably thousands of people coming through the prison system and coming out of the prison system. And, and before you worked as a research sociologist, you worked as a prison chaplain.

RJM: That's right.

LA: And you said you were inspired to get into this work by Jesus's words in the Book of Matthew, where he encourages people. He says, "The King will say to those on my right", this is from Matthew 25 verses 34 and 36. "You who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was in prison and you came to visit me."

RJM: That's right.

LA: So I wonder how this verse that inspired you as you were at the beginning of your journey becoming a prison chaplain, I wonder if you see it a different way at this point in your career, after having integrated your work with the lives of so many who were in prison and in need?

RJM: I so appreciate that question, and I love that scripture, and it touches me every time I hear it, and the context that you put it in just so beautifully renders what I think is the, the heart of it. So I think that God is judging nations in this moment. I think that he's asking us, do we care for each other and do we care for the unlovable, that's what I think he's asking. And, and, and that is kind of what I thought when I was much younger. When I was in my early 20s, and I was trying to get my head around what it meant to be Christian and to walk a life, to turn from an old life and to walk in a new one, and to, and to embrace it and to love my brothers and sisters. And the version that we read in our church put being sick and in prison together. It was, "Are you... When I was sick and in prison, did you visit me?" And it was... That was just striking to me. And I know that the versions, these are interpretations, and they have to do with how we think about language in a given moment in time, this kinda thing, but that's the version that touched me. And so, as I think about that today, as I think about that Scripture today, it is more and more clear to me that God is talking to us as a people. And it is more and more clear to me that that message is so necessary, because it's so easy to blame individuals for the things that they do and to render judgment without pretending like you're rendering judgment, to sit in God's seat and to, and to, and to, and to not extend a hand to the widow, the orphan, the fatherless. To not extend, to not love, to not do justice, to love mercy, but, but to choose vengeance, it's so easy to choose vengeance. And I think he's saying, and I think he said "Were you merciful? Were you kind? Did you care for the ones who were the most vulnerable? Because what you do to them, you do to me. I love them. They are me, I am them. How you treat them is how you treat me." And it is the judgment for the nation. It is a message for me, but it's a message for us, not just individually, but how we go about our affairs, it's how we think about our politics, it's how we think about how we do community life, it's how we live together. Do we love each other? This is powerful. And it's spoken to me over the years, it continues to speak to me today, maybe if in a different way, but certainly it's still speaking.

LA: I hear in your answer the difference between individual responsibility to acknowledge this problem and corporate responsibility to acknowledge this problem. Because as you say in the book individuals are somewhat hampered from helping individual people with felony records coming out of incarceration. Because if you... For example, if I rent a home, it's actually very difficult for me to take in someone coming out of the prison system, I could, I could be kicked out of my lease. Individuals are hampered from how much direct work that they can do. And at the same time as a society, there is a lot of weight going against people who are coming out of the prison system because of this several decades-long war on crime and war on drugs and the history of the accumulation of laws that restrict movements and restrict economic ability for people coming out of prison.

So I wonder when this verse is really... I've always thought of this verse in Matthew as talking to individuals, like God is saying, "You, Mark... " My co-host, Mark, is on vacation today, but usually he's here. But I imagine him saying like, "You, Mark, you're blessed, come and take your inheritance, 'cause I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. Leah, not so much, [chuckle] go to the back on the line. Take another chance." But I wonder if this could be applied corporately to all of us as a nation, where there are certainly people who are sick and in prison among us who, as a group, we're not acknowledging.

RJM: Yeah, so you know... I don't know, it might be, it might be the tradition that I come out of. But, but in our tradition, God judges nations, God speaks to nations, God sends prophets to speak to nations., when I read this, and as I read this, when I think about what he's doing, this is, this is the moment of the gathering, bring it all together, I think he's telling us about how to live together. I don't think he's just talking to me, and I don't think he's just talking to me because, one, because you're reading it, [chuckle] but also, two, because I can do all the work I want as an individual, and it's very important work, and I can love my neighbor as deeply as I want to, and the problem doesn't go away. I also think that God is telling us to choose love, and I think that he's telling us that corporately. Because I think what we've done is we've chosen judgment, and we've chosen to sit in judgment. We've chosen to individualize crime.

We've chosen to individualize problems, what we might call social problems. We've taken social problems and we drop them at the feet of the individual. And we've said to them, "We're not gonna choose love, we're not gonna choose mercy." And I don't think love always means mercy, but, "We're not gonna choose love in this moment, we're not gonna choose belonging in this moment, we're not gonna choose togetherness and figuring out how to get through this together in this moment. We're gonna choose judgment, we're gonna choose punishment, we're gonna choose you reap what you sow, we're gonna choose you eat the fruits of that which you planted." Or something like that, like let's find all the things that have to do with judgement and that's what's gonna happen with you.

You get what you call for, is what my guys often would say. They'd say, "I got what my hand called for." This is, this is the way people embodied, took on the judgment, even when they were innocent. It's such, it's such an interesting situation here, but to make this point, I think, a little more clear, what we've done is we've chosen to ignore the fact that we live together, that, that people need love and mercy, and, and we have to figure out how to live together even when people have done incredibly egregious things, instead we've chosen the easier route, which is to respond with retribution and with vengeance at the individual level, and that's how we got mass incarceration. And I think mass incarceration is morally wrong. I think we've bound up too many people, and I think if we wanna find our way out, we have to think about how we might live together, we have to think about belonging in a much deeper and a much more powerful way.

LA: One of the very powerful stories in your book that you talk about is... At the same time as you're systematically analyzing the challenges facing men and women coming out of incarceration, we're also, as a reader, following the story of you trying to help your brother, Jeremiah, who over the course of this book, he's... First he's in prison, and then he's trying to find housing so that he can get released from prison, and then he's facing the challenges of trying to find employment with a criminal record, and then he's back in prison. So, while you were writing this book, how did you think about whether you might wanna blend your personal experiences with incarceration and your professional work in this field?

RJM: It occurred to me that... So, I was born poor and black after 1972, and this is the year that mass incarceration begins in earnest, and the racial disparities in incarceration in this country are egregious. We know that black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated, twice as likely to be arrested, they do more time when they are incarcerated for the same crimes, even controlling for things like criminal history, meaning even when you consider what they've done and what their past was, when those things match, black people get 20% longer sentences at the federal level and 10% longer sentences at the state level. And so because of that, so many people that I knew growing up were going in and out of jails and prisons, so many people were being arrested and those arrests started very early, as early as 11 years old, 12 years old, 13 years old. And so, the truth is, living under these conditions, I couldn't have avoided the prison if I wanted to, but what we're taught to do as social scientists is to distance ourselves from our experiences, distance ourselves from our emotions even, which is why the writing is often pretty sterile.

And I decided that there would be much deeper insight that I'd be able to gain in the writing even, as I analyzed it, I thought about the data, if I included myself, and it would be much more honest because again, I couldn't have avoided the prison. So, as we mentioned, I'm doing this work, I'm a chaplain, I'm a volunteer chaplain, while I'm doing my chaplaincy, I meet my father who's been locked up for 20 years. I didn't know he was locked up for 20 years, I didn't know him. And, I then learn that two of my brothers... So while I'm doing research, I learn two of my brothers, in fact, follow him to the prison. One is arrested and incarcerated while I'm writing the book, and so I felt like I had to include it. I had to include it to be honest, and I think including that part of my story allowed me to see things that perhaps I might have missed had I not.

LA: I also think it helps the reader see things, and as I was reading this, I was thinking of the function of some of the prophetic books in the Bible, or even the function of the prophets is to help Israel see things that they're not able to see. The prophets will use either very exaggeratory language or physical stunts even, to help the people of Israel see what they're not able to see. So, as I was reading the story of your brother Jeremiah, who really serves in the book to make real these statistics that you're talking about, I was also thinking about the prophet Jeremiah who exposes the spiritual truths of Israel's sin by bearing them on his own body.

This might... Bear with me for a sec, 'cause this may seem like a esoteric example, but this is where, where my brain goes. There's this story in Jeremiah Chapter 27, when God tells the prophet Jeremiah to take yoke straps, cross bars, like this heavy, this heavy farm implement and wear it around his neck, to show Israel, how they're putting themselves under this yoke, under this heavy weight. And I think that the story of your brother Jeremiah, who significantly also shares the same name, significantly or by coincidence, shows us how we as a society are putting this yoke on prisoners and ex-offenders. There's this sense that it's very difficult for them ever to get free from that. Tell me if that sounds completely off base.

RJM: No, no, it doesn't sound off base. I think it's powerful. And it's nothing I thought about when I was writing the book, and I should have. It's such a powerful note and it resonates in incredible ways with this story. So, so Jeremiah is a pseudonym. I use pseudonyms throughout to protect people, 'cause I'm trying to protect their privacy, and I selected Jeremiah for his... In part because of his prophetic role, in part because my brother would not consider himself that in any stretch. He's a, he's a, he's a super funny, super gregarious. I always imagined Jeremiah as a buzz kill. [laughter] I always imagined Jeremiah as a bit of a kill joy like, "Israel, what are you doing?" Like, "Man, we're just trying to have a party, man." But, okay, having said that. So, in some ways, I see Jeremiah as the outset, in other ways, this story just really... Like this point that you raised really resonates with it, because the place where we wear social policy, I argue, is in the body. It's in our flesh. It's on us.

We carry it with us. It's in us. It's in us. And so it's, it's in... Rejection, is in us, it lives within us, a social policy of “no”, affects us psychologically, physiologically, spiritually, emotionally, certainly. I think oftentimes, when we talk about spiritual stuff, we tend to focus on the psychological aspect of it, but you're bringing in embodiment, which is also physiological, what does it mean to wear the yoke? What happens to your shoulders? What happens to your back? What happens to your range of motion? Okay, so, I'm rolling with you esoterically, but let's throw some public health data behind this. People leaving American jails or prisons or 11 more likely to die for any reason within the first two weeks of their release than members of the general population are. My dear colleague at Vanderbilt found using epidemiological tables, predicting life expectancy finds that for every year someone spends in an American jail or prison, they lose two years off of their lifetime.

We know that prisons literally kill us, they literally kill you. These are things that we don't think about when we're rendering a sentence, we don't think that for every year you spend in that place, you lose years off your life, we don't think that. We also, by the way, don't think about what it means to remove someone physically from their families, this is the second thing, another kind of yoke.

The yoke that gets passed on to the children and the cousins, and the brothers and the sisters, and the uncles and the aunts who are all there trying to figure out how to best support you. The role in the community that you used to play, that you can no longer play because you're in a cage.

Okay, beyond that, beyond that, the role you can never play again, because when you get out, you're met with 19,000 labor market restrictions. This is a podcast about faith and work, 19,000 laws, policies and administrative sanctions say, there are hundreds of categories of work for which you may not apply if you have a record. This is, this is what we make. So this idea of the yoke, the physicality of it, the embodiment of it, what it means to wear it, what it means to carry it, what it means for us to watch it being carried. For, a son, daughter, cousin, aunt, mother, sister, to see the person they love carrying that yoke, for them to try to carry that burden with them, these scars... It's such a deep and powerful and awful, awful thing.

LA: You mentioned a phrase that I would love for you to explain a little bit more, you said, 'a social policy of no'. Can you explain a little more what you mean by that?

RJM: Well, there are 19,000 employment restrictions, but those aren't the only ones. There are 45,000 laws, policies and administrative sanctions that dictate where people with criminal records may not live, work or spend time with their family. So, 19,000 laws, policies and administrative sanctions prevent people with criminal records from accessing employment. There are over a 1000 in most states. In my home state of Illinois, there were 500 when you included access to occupational licenses and property rights, that number went from 500 laws to 960. And so, so every time you go to fill out a job application, beyond checking a box, if you get past the initial screening, the employer has to tell you, "I'm so sorry, you may not have this job, not because you don't qualify for it. Not because you haven't changed your life and redeemed yourself and become this wonderful person. You can't have it because of a mistake that you made 20 years ago." You hear no. There are thousands of, of housing restrictions, over a 1000 across the country, making it almost impossible for people with criminal records to rent an apartment. So, you hear “no” there, every time you try to get a place to stay.

And, beginning in 1988, because of the passing a set of laws having to do with the war on drugs, we've made it so that people who you visit can be evicted from their home if they let you stay, and you have a criminal record. This is a part of, there's a, there's a Drug Abuse and Control Act or something like that, I list it in the book, and I can send the exact name of it. But it starts in 1988, it's exacerbated in the 1990s with an address about public housing agencies that we got from the Clinton administration for what he talked about is the one strike rule meaning you've got one strike and you're out. We need to evict people with criminal records who've ever committed a crime, and we need to evict families that allow them to, to stay in public housing. Well, what we saw after that address, of course, this law passed in 1988, but it takes a fan to fan the flames. After that address, we saw the number of applicants, rejections for applications double within six months after that address based on criminal records and public housing specifically. And we saw the number of evictions that were related to criminal, to criminal records, criminal records based evictions, we saw that increase in just six months after that, after that address.

And so, everywhere you look, the workplace, housing, what about civic engagement? There are several states where you can't vote. Beyond voting, most people with criminal records can't hold public office, but even more powerfully in about 30 states, most people with criminal records can't sit on a jury pool, meaning every time you get judged, you are never judged by a jury of your peers, and that doesn't happen in our country. No one who's had that experience, no one who understands what it's like to be in a cage, to leave a cage, or to turn one's life around is the person on the other end of that decision. It's always someone who's not like you decisively. And so everywhere you go, you hear, no, no, no, no. And if your family helps, they're punished too. Again, a grandmother can be evicted for letting her grandchild sleep on the couch. And so now what might be a natural bond of affection where grandma would say, "Yes, I love you, son, grandson, child. Come sleep on my couch." She now has to tell you no, or she'll be evicted. This is the world that we've created, a social policy of “no”, a, a, a society that rejects people that we're afraid of.

LA: I have to say, this makes the Book of Leviticus just look like a walk in the park. And I used to think... When I was growing up, I was raised Jewish, so I went to a Jewish after school program, we had to read the what we call the Old Testament, the old Jewish laws. And you get to that book and it's rules, rules, rules, laws, laws, laws, you're halfway asleep and you're like, "How could anyone follow all these laws, it's impossible." Well, the total number of laws we say is 613 commands. It's like 613 sounds like a number I can count on my fingers, compared to the number of laws that people who are theoretically rehabilitated have to keep track of. The other thing I'm thinking of in the ancient law of the Hebrew people is that the purity restrictions in Leviticus were not always meant to exclude people, but were meant to give people a way of coming back into the fold of the community.

So, you've done something wrong or you've touched something unclean. They didn't have Dial dish soap back in those days. You have to go to the outside of the camp and do some kind of purification, and then you get to come back. And in this social policy worlds of “no”, where you say there's ”no” at every turn, we're really... We've taken this type of community law and kind of perverted, where there's, there's really no way of coming back or you can come back, but you're always kind of a second class citizen or a non-citizen. You can never fully come back into the community today.

RJM: That's absolutely right. It's interesting. A dear friend who's a surgeon... I spent some time in, in, in Belgrade visiting prisons and spending time with formerly incarcerated people in Belgrade, because I wanted to understand what, what incarceration and post-incarceration is like in places that have different, different social policy regimes as it were. Different positions on how to best care for people who are vulnerable or people who've caused harm specifically. And so I visited Belgrade, I visited Malmo, I visited Glasgow, I visited London, I visited a number of European countries to try to understand it, exclusively European, this was the point of this trip. And anyway, I'm having dinner with my friend, who's a surgeon, and he talked about the way that we amputate people from the social body. He talked about it as an amputation, a cutting off. Now, it just so happened that this is his work, he does really interesting work around rejoining severed limbs, and he grafts the limbs together. My dear friend, Predrag Durvic, he re-grafts severed limbs using animal ligaments, it's his own technique. It's really powerful and also quite prophetic given what we're talking about right now, but he..


LA: And a little gross, I have to say, just... [laughter]

RJM: Medicine can get gross, medicine can get gross, absolutely. But yeah, he works with the most vulnerable, so, he's working with people who've had amputations for different reasons. Largely folks in the Roma communities, in and around Eastern Europe. This is another left behind group, people who are more or less treated as if they're stateless. Anyways, long story short, he talked about this as a kind of amputation, and it is what we do, we amputate from the social body, but that's not, that's not the basis of our society, the basis of our society is association, it's not the severing of one from another, it is association. Well, that's our political community. The church is a family, that, that, that's our political community. The church is God's family, we're his children, is what we say. Which one of us is gonna throw away God's child and then, and then say that to the Father? Who's gonna tell the Father, "I'm throwing away your kid." Who's gonna say that out loud? Nobody's gonna say that out loud, but that's what we do, it is in fact what we do.

LA: In our scripture, we even have letters expressing this metaphor of the church being one body.

RJM: Yes.

LA: We have 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, where all members of the body of Christ are like members of its body. And we can't... How can the body function without an arm? How is the head better than an arm? So, even this language that the surgeon brings up is true to our faith experience, but there's a disconnect in our country today with the way that we're treating people, where we're not treating the... As you said, one-third of black men, who have some sort of conviction record, are not being treated as part of the body. Correct me if I'm wrong, is that not the...

RJM: That's, that's absolutely the case. We're treating one-third as if. We're treating a third of US adults as if, and especially, especially... But there's a reason for that. The, the, the reason for that is clear, to me, as a social scientist who studies things like race, crime and punishment. The reason for that is because of the conflation between blackness and criminality, that really helps us, it helps us. If, if we view the criminal as the constant and always stranger, if we view them as someone other than us, and if we have a framework to use, that allows us to separate ourselves one from another, as if race is an actual thing. It's a thing in its social consequence, of course, but we know it doesn't matter, we understand it to be an abstraction.

Anyway, anyway, I'm not gonna get on a high horse, but the point is, despite this, despite this, our distrust, our distrust of the racially disparate group of people, our distrust of those folks, the guilt that we presume that, that, that circles around black folks, and because we think that mass incarceration is about black people, as a country, missing the fact that we have nearly one million white people in an American jail or prison, missing the fact that one in eight white women has a currently incarcerated loved one, missing the fact that, that, that 38% of white men will be arrested before they turn 23. Despite that, we think that mass incarceration is about black folks, and we live in a country that has a history of disdain toward black people. And so, it's easy for us to pay no attention to the things that we do to them because they're them, they're not an us. And so, I think getting this right will help us get a whole lot of other things right, that's what I think.

LA: I see why you started out our conversation by saying you believe God judges nations rather than individuals, 'cause you're very charitably using the word we here. When you could, in theory, put yourself in the better half of that argument. But I do hear the fact that all of us are culpable for this problem that we are not seeing or not allowing ourselves to see.

RJM: So yes [chuckle], we, we, we are in this thing together. The amputation is of individuals from the social body, as my dear friend, Predrag, suggested it, I think the problem is that we fail to see ourselves as a part of a human community, that we're all fully human participants in a human community, and it is our racisms, in this case. It is our disdain for the other, it is our hatred of the poor, and I use the word hatred intentionally, it is our hatred of the poor, not our love of the poor as the scripture commands, our hatred of the poor, our inability to see ourselves in the shoes of the so called other, that prevents us from, from, from moving away from this punitive impulse. And this is something we have to get over. We have to ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want? What kind of world are we building?

Do we want a world in which people belong? Even people we're afraid of, even people who've harmed us, or do we want the world that we've built? Where we've got the world's largest jail system in the country, where we've got among the worst social stratification, meaning, among the worst distribution of, income, Among the most unequal societies in the country, is this the world that we want, where a few people, a handful of people do very well and many millions of people don't, is that, is that what we want? I don't think that's what the Word calls us toward. I don't think this is what our God calls us toward, I don't think this is what we're made for. I think, we're supposed to love each other, and I think we're supposed to find a way for people to belong even when they've caused us harm.

LA: Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, thank you so much for sharing your work and sharing your faith with us today, it's really been an honor talking to you.

RJM: Thank you so much, this has been wonderful.

< Back to Making It Work podcast episode list