Million Mile Walker Dispatch, Spring Edition, Reckoning with Mass Incarceration, April, 2021


 Reckoning with Mass Incarceration
Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,

Spring has sprung and the desert is blooming in the Valley of the Sun! And with it – allergies, but it is a fair trade off. Now that the Minneapolis police officer has been charged with killing George Floyd in a historic case, it’s an appropriate time to analyze the impact our justice system has on the rest of society as part of Culture Watch. My Writing & Book Reviews will include several books and a movie.  We’ll look to Voices of the Day, for inspiration as well as What Others Are Saying.

Culture Watch
The author of today’s book review, Reuben Miller, was the inspiration of my focus after I heard him being interviewed. He knows the issues from first-hand experience. He was a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and is now a sociologist studying the issue by interviewing prisoners, ex-prisoners, their friends and their families to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. His study exposes the false narrative that in the U.S. you can serve your sentence; your debt will be paid in full, and you can return to life as a full-ledged member of society. The authors’ stories reveal the obstacles faced by released individuals, such as jobs that are off-limits, apartments that cannot be occupied and votes which cannot be cast.

Evidently, the U.S. has the highest per capita rate in the world of formerly incarcerated individuals, followed by Russia with 2.3 million, and another 20 million living with a felony record. That doesn’t include the 555,000 locked up in the U.S. who have not been convicted of a crime. Halfway Home reveals that the onus of the American justice system doesn’t stop at the prison doors, “Forty-five thousand federal and state laws regulate the lives of the accused. They dictate where and with whom they may live, and what they may do with their days. The greatest harms are concentrated at the state level, reaching into their neighborhoods.”

The author goes on the describe how children are impacted by this system, as on any given day, “there are forty-eight thousand incarcerated children living in the United States…,” but sadder still are the number of children torn from their families, “The people I met lost children, and they lost them for so many reasons: A missed appointment, A social worker came by the house, and the landlord hadn’t exterminated in months. Someone had an addiction. Someone had a gun. Some had one too many convictions. In the end, their children were taken, and there was nothing they could do.”

Some like the 15-year old in Florida would be condemned to long-term solitary confinement for almost two decades. Imagine the impact living in a freight elevator-size cage could have on you after eighteen years; well, here’s his story.

Examples of the system having gone awry seem endless.  This article from the March issue of National Geographic depicts how 8,700 people in the U.S. were sent to death row since 1973, but 82 were innocent. Some spent up to 20 years on death row and yet they rarely receive compensation or redress for their losses.

The author’s conclusions on dealing with mass incarceration also resonate when dealing with our country’s inability to deal with immigration. Between the undocumented workers and their families—11 million, and the total number of Americans with felony records, 20 million, which is almost 10% of our population, these individuals are basically invisible. They can’t vote nor, in some cases, obtain a driver’s license.

The following insightful observation by the author can apply to our broken justice and immigrations systems alike, “The problem of mass incarceration has never really been about crime.  It’s that the people who Americans are afraid of are subject to a separate set of rules. No social-service agency, no matter how well funded, can bridge the divide between these two worlds, nor can any of our criminal justice policy reforms.…You cannot treat or arrest or, perhaps, even reform your way out of mass incarceration because mass incarceration is about citizenship, not criminal behavior, and citizenship is about belonging.”  The author’s poignant and eye-opening call to arms reveals how laws, rules, and regulations extract a tangible cost, not only from those working to rebuild their lives, but also our democracy.

On that note, let’s not overlook the focus of my last Dispatch – immigration – with this timely review from NPR of three journalists including Maria Martin touches on the push factors that are increasing the number of migrants leaving Guatemala for the north. Maria quotes one observer as saying, the general population is going from “extreme poverty to misery.”

Maria Martin, an award winning public radio journalist is based in Antigua, Guatemala, where she heads up the ”GraciasVida Center” for media and has trained thousands of journalists throughout the U.S. and Latin America. We’ll be looking to outstanding professionals like Maria to develop our documentary, “Trouble in the Highlands.” We’re updating our narrative with a greater focus on the stories from Mayan communities and hope to continue filming in the Fall. Check out our revised trailer and website at:

Another timely article was written by Univision reporter, Jorge Ramos, who argues that our country’s existing immigration policies don’t meet the needs of migrants nor our national interest, and promote a “Big Wall with Taller Doors” approach.
According to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, “Entry into the United States must be legalized and optimized, seeing that now it is a dangerous system that encourages human trafficking controlled by drug cartels and other organized crime networks.” The article goes on to say that, “the U.S. economy is going to need between 600,000 and 800,000 workers per year,” and that it would be good to reach an immigration agreement with the United States so that those essential people can enter the country legally instead of risking their lives trying to cross the border.” He’s right.

The United States is a nation of immigrants, and, as Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald recently argues, we’ll need more migrants to support the nation’s beleaguered economy, replace its growing population of retired workers and make up for the country’s low birthrate. Our immigration system desperately needs to be updated to face these challenges.
George W. Bush’s interview on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” about his art book, “Out of Many, One,” was encouraging. His art project focuses on immigrants he’s known and has painted over the years. He tells of all the positive ways immigrants have benefited our country throughout our history.

My Writing, Book & Movie Reviews:

My latest article on “Tschiffely’s Epic Equestrian Ride has several new stories from Guatemala and is available, along with ten of my reviews and articles published in “Revue Magazine.”

Here’s my latest review, which provided the inspiration for this month’s “Dispatch”:

I’ve only received one essay for my “Six Decades of the Peace Corps in Guatemala,” article which I hope will be published in “Revue Magazine.” So I’m still looking for one Returned Peace Corps Volunteer per decade beginning in 1963, who served in Guatemala, to tell us how their time in Guatemala impacted them and their careers and what’s changed in Guatemala since they left.

What was intended to be a peaceful protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention turned into a violent clash with police and the National Guard. Initially, the DA determined it was the police who promoted the violence, not the protesters – a story most Boomers are familiar with, but very timely, as it differentiates between peaceful protest and sedition.

Voices of the Day:
Wherever you are, whatever platform you have, whatever sphere of influence you enjoy, the time is now for all of us to do something. The time is now to use our bodies to protect the bodies of those who are unsafe. The time is now to use our influence, to take a stand, to become active, to go to places to demand justice, and to disruptively remove ourselves from places. The time is now to raise our voices to be heard and to call on our nation to recognize the effects of racism in our criminal justice system and to reimagine public safety in this country.
– Rev. Terrance M. McKinley
If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony.
– James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

What Others Are Saying About My Next Book, “The Moritz Thomsen Reader:”
“I feel strongly that Thomsen is on the verge of being rediscovered in a BIG WAY, and if NBI or John Murray publishes Mark’s book, they would be well-positioned to cash in on the notoriety that’s coming down the pike!” -Craig Storti, fellow author and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. He recently interviewed me for the SIETAR Newsletter (Society for Inter-cultural Training and Research). His latest book, “The Hunt for Mt. Everest,” was just published by John Murray out of London. These encouraging comments keep me motivated to continue submitting my book proposal to a wide array of potential publishers.

All 60 book reviews and 25 articles, plus several videos, are at “Follow” me on Twitter., @millionmile_wal Facebook for the latest on international affairs and literature. And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” by all means, rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it.

Mark D. Walker

Copyright © 2021 Million Mile Walker, All rights reserved.

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