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Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration

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As heard on NPR’s Fresh Air A “persuasive and essential” (Matthew Desmond) work that will forever change how we look at life after prison in America through Miller’s “stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation’s carceral system” (Heather Ann Thompson) Each year, more than half a million Americans are released from prison and join a population of twenty million p As heard on NPR’s Fresh Air A “persuasive and essential” (Matthew Desmond) work that will forever change how we look at life after prison in America through Miller’s “stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation’s carceral system” (Heather Ann Thompson) Each year, more than half a million Americans are released from prison and join a population of twenty million people who live with a felony record.   Reuben Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and now a sociologist studying mass incarceration, spent years alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, their friends, and their families to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. What his work revealed is a simple, if overlooked truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison. The idea that one can serve their debt and return to life as a full-fledge member of society is one of America’s most nefarious myths. Recently released individuals are faced with jobs that are off-limits, apartments that cannot be occupied and votes that cannot be cast.   As The Color of Law exposed about our understanding of housing segregation, Halfway Home shows that the American justice system was not created to rehabilitate. Parole is structured to keep classes of Americans impoverished, unstable, and disenfranchised long after they’ve paid their debt to society.   Informed by Miller’s experience as the son and brother of incarcerated men, captures the stories of the men, women, and communities fighting against a system that is designed for them to fail. It is a poignant and eye-opening call to arms that reveals how laws, rules, and regulations extract a tangible cost not only from those working to rebuild their lives, but also our democracy. As Miller searchingly explores, America must acknowledge and value the lives of its formerly imprisoned citizens.  


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As heard on NPR’s Fresh Air A “persuasive and essential” (Matthew Desmond) work that will forever change how we look at life after prison in America through Miller’s “stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation’s carceral system” (Heather Ann Thompson) Each year, more than half a million Americans are released from prison and join a population of twenty million p As heard on NPR’s Fresh Air A “persuasive and essential” (Matthew Desmond) work that will forever change how we look at life after prison in America through Miller’s “stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation’s carceral system” (Heather Ann Thompson) Each year, more than half a million Americans are released from prison and join a population of twenty million people who live with a felony record.   Reuben Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and now a sociologist studying mass incarceration, spent years alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, their friends, and their families to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. What his work revealed is a simple, if overlooked truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison. The idea that one can serve their debt and return to life as a full-fledge member of society is one of America’s most nefarious myths. Recently released individuals are faced with jobs that are off-limits, apartments that cannot be occupied and votes that cannot be cast.   As The Color of Law exposed about our understanding of housing segregation, Halfway Home shows that the American justice system was not created to rehabilitate. Parole is structured to keep classes of Americans impoverished, unstable, and disenfranchised long after they’ve paid their debt to society.   Informed by Miller’s experience as the son and brother of incarcerated men, captures the stories of the men, women, and communities fighting against a system that is designed for them to fail. It is a poignant and eye-opening call to arms that reveals how laws, rules, and regulations extract a tangible cost not only from those working to rebuild their lives, but also our democracy. As Miller searchingly explores, America must acknowledge and value the lives of its formerly imprisoned citizens.  

30 review for Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rachel León

    "We have not yet come to grips with our problems or imagined an adequate response because our assumptions about the extent and causes of crime have been wrong from the beginning. 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." Sometimes the most important books don't get much buzz, and Reuben Jonathan Miller's powerful book truly needs to be read on "We have not yet come to grips with our problems or imagined an adequate response because our assumptions about the extent and causes of crime have been wrong from the beginning. 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." Sometimes the most important books don't get much buzz, and Reuben Jonathan Miller's powerful book truly needs to be read on a large scale. This past year more people are paying attention to issues of systemic racism and police brutality and this book sheds light on what mass incarceration actually looks like and how it affects people's lives, including the author's. Miller spent fifteen years researching this book, candidly and unflinchingly offering a portrait of life after incarceration. A must read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a revealing, heartbreaking, and honest look at the difficulties of post-incarceration life, as well as the effects on incarceration on the prisoners and their families, as experienced among African-Americans. Librarians/booksellers: This is a deeply personal and intimate book; your readers interested in contemporary issues will want to read this. Many thanks to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shana

    After hearing Professor Miller speak at a Luskin Forum virtual event, I looked u his book. This book very clearly and in patient detail uses the research, interviewed formerly incarcerated people (ie felons), and stories from his own life to lay out most notably the arduous, excruciating, and burdensome obstacles of individuals - disproportionately Black in the US - after being released from prison whether on parole or completely free. even when they were never guilty of the crime for which they After hearing Professor Miller speak at a Luskin Forum virtual event, I looked u his book. This book very clearly and in patient detail uses the research, interviewed formerly incarcerated people (ie felons), and stories from his own life to lay out most notably the arduous, excruciating, and burdensome obstacles of individuals - disproportionately Black in the US - after being released from prison whether on parole or completely free. even when they were never guilty of the crime for which they were imprisoned. And when they are addicts, the requirements of sobriety programs are daily , basically they re often kept out of housing, kept out of jobs, and when they can get housing, it must be approved, and for a job the hours cannot interfere with the parole check-in requirements. His brother wanted to drive trucks, went through the certification process, but then was denied the right to accept the job he was offered because he would be required to cross state lines driving a truck, and he needed to stay in his state (forever? for many years?) he had to take a minimum wage job in a tortilla factory instead. The parolee is forbidden from associating with known felons , and a whole host of other people which basically means it's possible they cannot go back to their home neighborhoods at all..on and on. As far as the courts, he has an interesting discussion of the history of our "voluntary confession" culture, as well as legal fees, and, the role of plea deals, repeat offenders etc. He doesn't prescribe a lot of solutions, but points to the need for a support system, and "a favor economy" and throws doubt on the ability of felons to bear the burden of changing themselves alone once out when clearly the system has a lot of problems. The main takeaways are: having a loved one in prison, is stressful, costly and a huge emotional stress on families. Stay out of prison! Also, if people who have served their sentences still have so many of their rights as citizens abrogated or denied, how CAN they do their punishment and move on? Also, don't get addicted to drugs! He does not judge the subjects who break the law, he does point out the burden of many laws, rules, regulations etc. For the 50% of us Americans who do NOT know someone in prison (or has been imprisoned?) this gives a lot of food for thought. I would rate this a5 if there were some practical solutions proposed.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    An important addition to the discussion about mass incarceration (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness et al) because it discusses what comes afterward - the almost impossible tasks of finding a place to work and live when our laws prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from securing either one. Halfway Home is also eye opening in its portrayal of how freaking expensive it is to be in prison for the family, who have to pony up for phone calls, emails, food and su An important addition to the discussion about mass incarceration (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness et al) because it discusses what comes afterward - the almost impossible tasks of finding a place to work and live when our laws prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from securing either one. Halfway Home is also eye opening in its portrayal of how freaking expensive it is to be in prison for the family, who have to pony up for phone calls, emails, food and supplies. Miller's personal experience as the brother and son of incarcerated men gives the book heart and validity, while his interviews and relationships with other former felons gives it a broader scope. Miller doesn't have the answer to the problem (hint: it's not "job readiness" programs that teach people how to interview and dress for jobs they are legally not allowed to have), but he deepens the understanding of a devastating problem and humanizes the lives of those we would prefer to see as "other."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    “This ... is the afterlife of mass incarceration — to be separated from your hopes and any real idea of freedom. Millions of people are unable to decide for themselves where they will work or live or spend time. Millions more can’t find a job or housing at all. There is no place for them to go because no place has been made for them, not even in the public’s imagination. The problem of mass incarceration has never really been about crime. It’s that the people who Americans are afraid of are subje “This ... is the afterlife of mass incarceration — to be separated from your hopes and any real idea of freedom. Millions of people are unable to decide for themselves where they will work or live or spend time. Millions more can’t find a job or housing at all. There is no place for them to go because no place has been made for them, not even in the public’s imagination. 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. They live in a separate and altogether different social world, because they belong to a different political community. No social-service agency, no matter how well funded, can bridge the divide between those two worlds, nor can any of our criminal justice-policy reforms. We have not yet come to grips with our problems or imagined an adequate response because our assumptions about the extent and causes have been wrong from the beginning. 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.”

  6. 5 out of 5

    Arun Murali

    I found this to be a tremendous read! Well written, Halfway Home talks about the challenge that the incarcerated endure not only while traversing the prison system, but what awaits them once they are done. So much of what we see and hear on the news or in movies depicts the criminal activity that leads to these prison terms and the time spent inside, but rarely do we hear about the deep rooted issues that have traumatized these individuals and the obstacles society has placed in front of them as I found this to be a tremendous read! Well written, Halfway Home talks about the challenge that the incarcerated endure not only while traversing the prison system, but what awaits them once they are done. So much of what we see and hear on the news or in movies depicts the criminal activity that leads to these prison terms and the time spent inside, but rarely do we hear about the deep rooted issues that have traumatized these individuals and the obstacles society has placed in front of them as a result. Complicating matters, once their time is done, the difficulty to resume any type of common place living is now overwhelming forcing so many to either make the same choices or to navigate a world few of us have to. The author does a great job of explaining the evolution of our incarceration challenge and the tie to our systemic racial issues. We have a long way to go to solving this issue. Perhaps the most effective part of this writing is the reflection on the impact this issue has had on the author's own personal situation. I highly recommend reading this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Strickland

    I have always had the “do the crime do the time” personality, after reading halfway home it has softened my attitude toward crime and punishment. The authors explains that after people are released from long prison sentences they depend on an “economy of favors” usually leaning on family members for housing and assistance. Combine that with people that are prone to addiction and the result is recidivism. Not to forget that repeat offenders get harsher sentences. This book has grayed an issue tha I have always had the “do the crime do the time” personality, after reading halfway home it has softened my attitude toward crime and punishment. The authors explains that after people are released from long prison sentences they depend on an “economy of favors” usually leaning on family members for housing and assistance. Combine that with people that are prone to addiction and the result is recidivism. Not to forget that repeat offenders get harsher sentences. This book has grayed an issue that i used to see as black and white. The authors personal stories of dealing with his brother’s incarceration highlight the emotional and financial toll it takes on family members of incarcerated people.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    In Halfway Home, Miller recounts the stories of men and women, who have served their time in the U.S. correctional system, and upon their release have fulfilled all the legal requirements, but are still kept on the fringes of society, struggling to find employment and housing at every turn. Miller weaves legal history into the personal stories, filling in the details of mass incarceration in this country. But this is also a very personal story for Miller, who recounts his own family's struggles In Halfway Home, Miller recounts the stories of men and women, who have served their time in the U.S. correctional system, and upon their release have fulfilled all the legal requirements, but are still kept on the fringes of society, struggling to find employment and housing at every turn. Miller weaves legal history into the personal stories, filling in the details of mass incarceration in this country. But this is also a very personal story for Miller, who recounts his own family's struggles with the legal system, and whose father and brothers have both been in and out of cages throughout their lives. It's the personal element to these tales and Reuben Miller's empathy with his subjects that makes this book so affecting.

  9. 4 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Thanks to Goodreads and Little Brown for making this book available through the Giveaway contest. This book is really devastating. The author brings the men and woman who are trying to begin their post prison life out of the shameful statistics and into vivid life. I’m sure the laws put into place for a prisoner to rejoin society were made with the best of intentions, but in reality, they are untenable. There are curfews, drug testing and periodic raids, but it feels almost impossible to find a Thanks to Goodreads and Little Brown for making this book available through the Giveaway contest. This book is really devastating. The author brings the men and woman who are trying to begin their post prison life out of the shameful statistics and into vivid life. I’m sure the laws put into place for a prisoner to rejoin society were made with the best of intentions, but in reality, they are untenable. There are curfews, drug testing and periodic raids, but it feels almost impossible to find a place to live or get a decent job. This book shows a failed system that just seems to harass these people until they can find a way to send them back to prison.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Beverly Hallfrisch

    Tells a narrative for numerous people's lives. I very much enjoy personal histories, and I loved that it had the feeling of being part memoir. I was disappointed that there was really no reference to nerdy science; such as policy history or studies on recidivism, etc. Personal preference. I'm the biggest fan of books that weave together science or macro views with personal experiences. The personal stories solidify the tragedies and impacts at scale. In the end, I felt I was getting one half of Tells a narrative for numerous people's lives. I very much enjoy personal histories, and I loved that it had the feeling of being part memoir. I was disappointed that there was really no reference to nerdy science; such as policy history or studies on recidivism, etc. Personal preference. I'm the biggest fan of books that weave together science or macro views with personal experiences. The personal stories solidify the tragedies and impacts at scale. In the end, I felt I was getting one half of a topic (A very engaging half for sure). This book might contain the most perfect ending ever conceived.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hayley DeRoche

    As a foster parent dedicated to advocating for mercy and social justice within the system, I surprisingly didn't pick up this book knowing Miller's past work includes working with foster youth; I was picking up the book to read around the topic of mass incarceration hoping to put puzzle pieces together myself, and Miller surprised me by doing that work for me, in essence. Lightfooted and skilled in narrative voice, this book is both well-researched and a fast easy nonfiction read (perhaps not as As a foster parent dedicated to advocating for mercy and social justice within the system, I surprisingly didn't pick up this book knowing Miller's past work includes working with foster youth; I was picking up the book to read around the topic of mass incarceration hoping to put puzzle pieces together myself, and Miller surprised me by doing that work for me, in essence. Lightfooted and skilled in narrative voice, this book is both well-researched and a fast easy nonfiction read (perhaps not as far as subject matter goes, but it is definitely not an academic slog, as other books about this topic can sometimes be). I heartily recommend it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Chua

    A deeply personal, ethnographic work on the said topic. Easy to read, painful to feel, that an alternate reality exists for American citizens who once ran afoul of the law that keeps them pinned down. While the author provides no clear plan or treatment for the woes faced by the real protganoists of the book, the realness of his story, and his poetic meditations on interactions and realities, awaken the readers to a harsh reality of race, discrimination, incarceration, and a crushinwaste of huma A deeply personal, ethnographic work on the said topic. Easy to read, painful to feel, that an alternate reality exists for American citizens who once ran afoul of the law that keeps them pinned down. While the author provides no clear plan or treatment for the woes faced by the real protganoists of the book, the realness of his story, and his poetic meditations on interactions and realities, awaken the readers to a harsh reality of race, discrimination, incarceration, and a crushinwaste of human potential. This is a must read for anyone who loves America and wants a better tomorrow for its people.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dylan

    An undaunted and deeply revealing insight into the racist machinations of mass incarceration, and its consequences, told the way that all work in this field should be told: through the words, experiences, and perspectives of the people and families who have been brutalized by those machinations and consequences.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kent

    Outstanding book and story(ies). Beautifully written, thoroughly researched, compassionately and insightfully told. Halfway Home offers insights I wish I'd fully appreciated back in the day when I was a prosecutor. I hope many ADAs and AUSAs read it. While the criminal justice system will always be a key part of keeping our society civil and safe, the concept of justice is far broader. Outstanding book and story(ies). Beautifully written, thoroughly researched, compassionately and insightfully told. Halfway Home offers insights I wish I'd fully appreciated back in the day when I was a prosecutor. I hope many ADAs and AUSAs read it. While the criminal justice system will always be a key part of keeping our society civil and safe, the concept of justice is far broader.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A sociologist view of incarceration in America. Professor Miller's personal experiences adds a level of empathy and understanding. Too many people are being incarcerated and then they can't get jobs or housing once released. How are they supposed to live? The parole rules seem impossible to address to. No wonder there are so many repeat incarcerations. A sociologist view of incarceration in America. Professor Miller's personal experiences adds a level of empathy and understanding. Too many people are being incarcerated and then they can't get jobs or housing once released. How are they supposed to live? The parole rules seem impossible to address to. No wonder there are so many repeat incarcerations.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Smyth

    This book is from the genre narrative nonfiction, takes a clear eyed look at those who have served time but continue to be jailed by the restrictions we place on former felons. It makes the best case for “banning the box” on job applications and rental agreements that I’ve ever read. A thought provoking book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Donald Powell

    An emotionally moving book about mass incarceration and our criminal justice system's interaction with the rest of our culture. This book, both personal and systemic, does not provide new information but it does wrap it into a logical and compelling argument to re-think the entire system to make citizenship about belonging. A very important book during this time of necessary paradigm shift. An emotionally moving book about mass incarceration and our criminal justice system's interaction with the rest of our culture. This book, both personal and systemic, does not provide new information but it does wrap it into a logical and compelling argument to re-think the entire system to make citizenship about belonging. A very important book during this time of necessary paradigm shift.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    The author was fantastic in interviews on Teri Gross and Big Brains, but it was valuable to read the book. Many of my patients in the out-patient psychiatric clinic in a large city hospital have incarceration histories and until I read this book, I didn't appreciate the additional hurdles they have had to face. The author was fantastic in interviews on Teri Gross and Big Brains, but it was valuable to read the book. Many of my patients in the out-patient psychiatric clinic in a large city hospital have incarceration histories and until I read this book, I didn't appreciate the additional hurdles they have had to face.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Good book tracking multiple individuals after they get out of jail/prison. It’s pretty daunting to see the amount of restrictions of housing and jobs after the punishment is served. The author brings up some very valid points and anecdotes to make the reader consider how the US runs its prison system.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I’m very glad I read it. I wasn’t sure at the beginning. It didn’t change. The strength of it just slowly revealed itself as the author told his story, told his research, told his truth. The painful story about the real practical evil of our penal system is made grievingly clear.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    A wonderful compilation of many of the problems of re-entering society as a convicted felon with very little in the way of corrective measures. I would pose that we all know there are significant problems but few have devised an effective correction deterring crime or making victims whole.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Johnett

    Never read a book on this subject from this perspective. Interesting to consider all the complications that living with an incarcerated person (or even a formerly incarcerated person) in your family sphere brings. Solid, well-documented, and not lacking in heart; I appreciated this read very much.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Whew. There is SO much injustice with the police and court system. So Much. It is a loose loose situation for the disadvantaged who are trapped by the system. It does help explain why there is a homeless crisis - and Bill Clinton plays a large role - ouch.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Becca Miserlian

    I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. This was a really eye-opening look at the way a criminal record continues to limit peoples' opportunities even long after they are released. I enjoyed the author's inclusion of his own experiences and perspectives in the book as well. I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. This was a really eye-opening look at the way a criminal record continues to limit peoples' opportunities even long after they are released. I enjoyed the author's inclusion of his own experiences and perspectives in the book as well.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    Unflinching look at how hard it is for people released from prison to rejoin society and why so many end up back in the system. The author’s educational, work and personal experience with the prison system gives this book a very intimate touch.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Em Hoggatt

    Oof, this was a difficult read. It's a book that will make you realize how breathtakingly unfair our country is to millions of its citizens. Miller takes several horrifying statistics and puts real faces to them with his empathetic fieldwork. Reading this greatly increased my motivation to advocate for folks trapped in the prison industrial complex. Oof, this was a difficult read. It's a book that will make you realize how breathtakingly unfair our country is to millions of its citizens. Miller takes several horrifying statistics and puts real faces to them with his empathetic fieldwork. Reading this greatly increased my motivation to advocate for folks trapped in the prison industrial complex.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Buford

    I have a special interest in this topic and a lot of respect for people who are working hard to improve the blight that is mass incarceration.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    Because this is such a timely, important topic, I'm even more disappointed in this book. The poor writing and condescending descriptions of people made it impossible for me to read. Because this is such a timely, important topic, I'm even more disappointed in this book. The poor writing and condescending descriptions of people made it impossible for me to read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kendra Ramada

    Just one more (very well written reminder) that this country’s criminal justice/incarceration system is fucked.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Louis Postel

    Miller weaves his own story into this study which makes it that much more compelling.

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