By Reverend Marilyn B. Kendrix
The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Hijacked the American Dream is a book written by committee – the Malta Justice Initiative – and the writing committee is an eclectic group of folks. Since the book is aimed at three communities – the business community, the academic community and the faith community – all three of those communities are represented on the writing team and I represented the faith community among this outstanding group of impassioned people.
As an ordained minister, I was moved to doing something about our nation’s broken criminal justice system after reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow. As one who came to ministry late in life, I did not truly understand this inexplicable call to ordained ministry until I read Dr. Alexander’s book. Why, after an entire career in organizational development would I feel compelled to apply to Yale Divinity School and insert myself into an academic setting after so many years in corporate America? I had no clue – until I woke up to the truth of the lack of justice in America’s criminal justice system. Like many people, I was unaware of the costs of this system, the cost to us as taxpayers, but more importantly, the cost in human lives.
I think the thing that most appalled me was the unbelievable lack of forgiveness for folks coming out of prison, allegedly having paid their debt to society. As a Christian minister, I believe in forgiveness but our criminal justice has legal prohibitions that go well beyond the actual period of incarceration. Locked out of most housing, excluded from most public assistance including food stamps, ineligible for Federal student loans and unable to secure employment due to criminal background checks that continue to show convictions, no matter how long ago, many of these people find that the most rational thing for them to do is re-offend and go back to prison. We have set up this system which cannot fail to make us less safe rather then more safe.
So concerned was I about this injustice being perpetrated in my name as a taxpaying citizen of the United States and Connecticut and as a practicing Christian, called to love all God’s people, that I have covenanted with the church where I serve as Associate Pastor to preach about mass incarceration and then lead a discussion after worship on the topic two Sundays every month at other churches around the state.
Working on this book enabled me to spread that message even further and to focus the message to a Connecticut audience. The best thing about our book is that it does not leave you with a problem with no solution. We have outlined no less than 30 recommendations that we can take here in Connecticut to turn the tide on this system that continues to trap people in a poverty from which there is no escape.
Reverend Marilyn B. Kendrix, is the Associate Pastor at the Church Of The Redeemer; Adjunct Professor, University of New Haven; Writing Committee, The Justice Imperative book.