Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller will discuss his book “Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration” Tuesday, Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Memorial Union. The event will be hosted by JustDANE and the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Distinguished Lecture Series.
Dr. Miller said he is looking forward to talking with community members about the lasting effects of mass incarceration. This research is important to him because he understands the negative effects of the American prison system personally.
“The prison is this larger-than-life feature, certainly in my life,” Miller told Madison365. “But I went to graduate school to study it, and to understand it. When I got there and started doing the work following people who got out of jails and prisons, I took my first job as a professor. And while I was doing the research that ended up being the research for the book, my brother got locked up. It was now personal.
“A part of the lived experience that I understood from my body, you know, from my flesh from my heart, I decided to write about what that was and what that meant,” he added. “And how it shaped my world and how it shaped his and what it meant to follow people who were trying to cope with the same thing. So that’s kind of the genesis of the book. That’s the book’s origin story.”
Dr. Miller served as a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and studies the sociology of mass incarceration. He talked about how mass incarceration in American negatively affects Black and poor communities.
“We don’t pay enough attention to what the experiment in human caging that we’ve engaged in does,” said Miller. “It’s changed the world, especially the social world, and the social life or the American city, and especially for poor people, for Black people, for people who live at the margins of society who’ve been pushed to the margins of society.
“I don’t think we pay enough attention to how, for example, our impulse to punish shapes the way we think about Black children, the way we think about the Black family, the way we think about family life, generally, the way we think about appropriate responses to social problems,” he adds. “The fact that we’ve thrown so many people away, makes it so easy to throw people away.”
Dr. Miller hopes this conversation teaches people that there are alternatives to the ways our country punishes people. He wants people to understand that mass incarceration is a lifelong burden for the person who was in prison and their families and is looking forward to talking with the UW-Madison community about the serious lasting effects of the prison system and his experiences working in a jail. He wants this conversation to get people to understand the seriousness of this issue and that there are other options instead of throwing people, and their lives, into prison.
“We can respond to questions of violence and harm in very different ways than we’re right now responding to it,” said Miller. “The thing I like most about coming to places like UW, but coming to UW specifically, is the opportunity to meet people, community activists, organizers and lawyers and folks who are working in different parts of the system. People who agree that we should do different things and people who don’t.
“And they get the opportunity to kick around ideas, and to spend time with folks who need to start imagining, in my view, the world that mass incarceration has wrought,” he added. “Because one in two Americans have a loved one who’s been to jail and prison now. This isn’t some dirty secret for a few people, especially a few poor Black people anymore. This is the nation.”