Why the NIA?
Mass Incarceration has become a huge popular topic these days. From the inside-prison TV shows, to iconic books like The New Jim Crow, to the media coverage of political alliances and the bold initiatives of some elected leaders, and even candidates for president, mass incarceration is now far less of a taboo topic.
Politicians are talking sweeping changes and announcing improvement numbers. Some judges and some prosecutors are starting to show guarded signs of sensitivity. In most states there are scores of non-profit agencies that have been fighting this mass incarceration battle for years – long before it became easier to discuss and debate in the public square.
Meanwhile there is the grandmother who has worked the same rotation of minimum wage jobs for the last 33 years, whose 38-year-old son can only keep a job as long as his felony conviction record goes undiscovered. She runs from her sister’s phone calls now because she cannot afford to pitch in to keep her nephew off the street. But she stops everything to answer the phone when her daughter calls from prison. She’s been there for 12 years. She went in addicted to heroin, and with the acquired skills of a habitual thief. There is no money for her four children to travel 300 miles to visit her. They are sheltered as best as can be by the weary arms of grandmother.
If you travel on a public bus or train and engage casual conversations with people, every fifth or perhaps even every fourth person with whom you might share small talk can speak openly about someone in their family or personal circle of interest who is suffering through the collateral consequences of incarceration. For millions of them, change is still only a word.
and the family now realizes that he might be coming home soon. Tears. Reflection. Preparation. Of course you’re happy. But your worries continue anew.
- Why can’t he vote?
- Will his parole officer be fair?
- Has his addiction been cured?
- Will he be able to get a good job?
- Will he be depressed or ashamed?
- Why can’t he live wherever he can afford to live?
- How can he pay fines when no one will give him work?
- Will he be able to handle the realities of his broken home?