Willow

WARNING: This is not a photo post, but it does contain important information about prison reentry.

I found out that April 24-30, 2016 was designated National Reentry Week by The Department of Justice. This release from The White House stated The Department of Justice would “highlight how strong reentry programs can make our communities safer.” President Obama said he planned to make it possible for previously incarcerated people to compete for federal jobs. Obama stressed, “this is about more than what makes economic and practical sense – it’s about ensuring we live up to our nation’s ideals.” However, I wonder if President Trump will agree about this being tantamount to living up to American values?

I think John Oliver sums up the hurdles returning citizens face powerfully in this 19 minute piece on prison reentry. He interviews returning citizen (ex-inmate) Bilal Chatman at the end of this TV segment. Oliver asks, “What would you like people to know about you?” Chatman starts by saying, “Well…I would like people to know…that I can grow tomatoes.” And Oliver replies, “that is a lot more interesting of a statement than maybe even you know.” When people think about reentry, about inmates being released from prison, they don’t always think about how those people are real, live, fallible yet lovable, human beings. How they will be our neighbors, our coworkers, and part of our community. Chatman brings that into focus for us, with his simple statement.

It is encouraging to hear Bilal’s story. Despite his mistakes, and incarceration, now he has found work and other pursuits (like growing tomatoes), that fulfill him. I like the attention President Obama gave to the justice system and mass incarceration but I worry that the incremental changes he and his administration began to make, will be destroyed by our present leader. Although it appears more people are becoming invested in making changes around the justice system, will that be enough to keep America moving toward making change? I can’t forecast what will happen. I am publicly stating that I wish to be involved in helping to make change in the dehumanizing way the justice system and incarceration work in the US.