A Chicago Cook County Jail chaplain and mass-incarceration sociologist examines the lifelong realities of a criminal record, demonstrating how America's justice system is less about rehabilitation and more about structured disenfranchisement.
Miller writes in prose that is at once powerful and engaging — and combines an abundance of data with the lived experiences of the people the numbers represent. A sociologist, criminologist, social worker, and former chaplain at Chicago's Cook County Jail, his insights are partly drawn from having spent 15 years interviewing nearly 250 people caught up in the prison industrial complex. This work included a research project during which he spent three years engaging with 60 men and 30 women after their release from incarceration in Michigan. Miller can also claim far more experiential expertise, because he was 'born black and poor in the age of mass incarceration' and, like every Black person he knows, 'was stopped by the police a number of times.' He is a scientist armed with statistical information, and he is the son and brother of incarcerated men ... Halfway Home shines a light on a wide range of absurdities baked into an inherently unjust system. Even though the book's primary focus is on life after incarceration, Miller makes clear that the problems with the criminal justice system are grounded in history. He tackles everything from 15th-century racial slavery to Bacon's Rebellion and the invention of whiteness to gentrification and the dramatically reduced life expectancy that results from incarceration.
Interviewing these men, Miller wears his social scientist’s hat, but he admits to chafing under its constraints. He’s supposed to maintain a scholarly detachment and use terms like 'family complexity' and 'social desirability' as shorthand for what he learns. But part of what makes his book stand out is how he parses his own proximity to the material ... powerful.
Interweaving personal memoir and qualitative data in narrative form, sociology professor Miller’s Halfway Home is reminiscent of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (2010) in its exploration of the 'supervised society' and 'carceral citizenship' of mass incarceration that systematically prevent former prisoners from participating in society ... Miller’s experiences with finding a home for his formerly incarcerated brother show how people enter a post-prison life precariously dependent on the whims of parole officers or favors from strangers. Thus, Miller arrives at his ultimate plea for 'radical politics of community and hospitality that would take us far beyond the limits of a moral calculus based on public safety or fear of retribution.'