This is the 5th in a series of 5 posts discussing mass incarceration.
Throughout the week, we have discussed the issue of mass incarceration, looked through biblical and theological reasons to engage with the topic, discussed some groups that are engaging the issue, and looked through several different resources that provide various information about mass incarceration. The end of the series has come, and a question remains: What now? How can someone begin to engage with the issue of mass incarceration?
Note how that question is phrased. I do not think the issue of mass incarceration can be ignored. Millions of men, women, and children are being adversely affected by the current incarceration system, a system that predominantly affects poor and minority members of our society. Action must be taken to reform this system.
As I say this, I realize that everyone cannot become intimately involved with the issue of mass incarceration. There are many other issues that need our time, and we are not able to devote all of our time to every issue. At the same time, this does not give us a free pass here. Mass incarceration is an issue now, and needs some form of engagement now.
The first step I have heard from people I know working with mass incarceration is that we need to become educated about this topic. The books that were suggested in the previous post, especially The New Jim Crow, are a great place to start. Another good way to become and stay informed is to set up a Google Alert. Anyone with an e-mail address on a Google server can set up a Google Alert for a specific topic. You will then receive an e-mail at a time interval you choose (a day, a week, etc.) that contains news stories about a topic you choose. Go to google.com/alerts, and you will be walked through the process of setting up an alert.
While we could spend large amounts of time reading and learning about mass incarceration, there comes a time when we need to move to action. One way to become involved is to find a group working with mass incarceration and learn how you can help. There are many different ways to help with an organization, from volunteering to giving money and beyond. The important part is to learn what the organization needs. If you already know someone or a group that is engaging the issue, network with them to learn more. If you don’t yet know anyone, a group like The Sentencing Project can provide information about people in your state working with mass incarceration, and you can network from there. A Google search can also be a place to begin, but is not always the most helpful way to find a group.
Another simple way of engaging the issue is through your political representative. A call, e-mail, or letter to your representative’s office has more impact than you may realize. Whether you voted for that person or not, they care about what you have to say because they represent you. They get their jobs because people vote for them: they keep their jobs if they listen to the people they represent. All you have to do is say that you are concerned about mass incarceration, and give a specific issue (or many issues) about the topic that concern you. They will listen because they want to keep their job. The government is quite reactionary, and often does not move unless they hear from the people they represent.
The issue of mass incarceration is complex, interacting with issues from the blacklivesmatter movement to issues of policing to immigration to social services and beyond. This week of posts has only covered a small piece of the mass incarceration issue. Much more can be said, much more can be learned, and much more can be done. What cannot happen is for this issue to continue to be ignored. We have a voice, and can work to help change the system.