Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation

When we were fresh out of college, my wife, Anne and I became involved with a group of in our hometown called Volunteers in Corrections. We were assigned to work with someone who was going to be released from a local minimum-security prison. When the group discovered that I had a political science degree, they asked if I would be interested in testifying before the state legislature about upcoming legislation seeking to amend the state’s criminal code and impose mandatory, minimum sentencing.

Being young and brash and way too over-confident, I said “Sure. I’d be glad to do that.” For the next several weeks, I researched the topic and wrote and re-wrote what I was going to say. When the day came to go to the state Capitol, I could not have been more nervous. Though now public speaking comes easily to me, then, my knees were knocking so loudly I am sure the legislators thought someone was pounding on the chamber’s doors to get in. To a full crowd, I read my manuscript and quietly slipped away. I was one of many who asserted that mandatory, minimum sentences would not only take discretion away from our judges but also result in overcrowded prisons. That legislation never got anywhere. However, several years later, during the country’s obsession with the “war on drugs,” federal sentencing laws employed mandatory, minimum sentencing. Nearly forty years later, we are suffering from mass incarceration much of which is related to mandatory sentencing for drug-related charges. Thankfully, things are beginning to change.

Can we make a difference?

Did my testimony make a difference? I will never know. However, I realize now that Volunteers in Corrections and others (myself included) could have done much better in educating and informing our legislators about this issue. A young, nervous 23-year-old shaking in his boots as he testified may have brought some sympathy but it probably didn’t change anyone’s mind about anything.

Make a Difference – Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2015

This year from April 17 – 20, 2015, we all have an opportunity to learn more about mass incarceration and strategies to lobby our legislators! The theme for the annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days taking place in Washington, D.C., is Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration & Systems of Exploitation.

You are invited to join over 1,000 Christian advocates in building a movement to shake the foundations of systems of human exploitation, including a prison-industrial system that incarcerates millions of people in the U.S. and abroad.  Through prayer, worship, advocacy training, networking and mobilization with other Christians, we will face the reality of mass incarceration and corporate exploitation and call for national policies that bring liberation both to the prisoner and to a world in need of restoration.

Find out more details about the program and schedule for 2015 Ecumenical Advocacy Days. 

On Saturday, April 18, at 5:45 p.m. during Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Disciples’ ministries such as the National Benevolent Association, Disciples Center for Public Witness, Reconciliation Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Council on Christian Unity will be hosting a special reception and program. We welcome you to join us. I will be part of the presentation and gathering. I would love to see you there. Who knows? A letter or a meeting or a phone call to one of your representatives may change a mind and move us to a better place. Creating a more humane world. Embracing restorative practices. And just think, your knees won’t even have to knock together in the process!

Rev. Dean Bucalos serves as part-time Mission Specialist for NBA Prison and Jail Ministries. Connect with Dean by email.

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