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Photo: Karin Kaufman Wall, peace and justice education coordinator for MCC Central States, leads youth at the 2019 Mennonite Church USA convention in the learning exercise “You Got Booked” to help them learn about the causes of mass incarceration. The cards on the floor lead participants to discussion on different topics. Photo by Kenneth Krehbiel/MC USA.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. announces two new learning resources that explore systemic practices and injustices that cause mass incarceration. One is an interactive activity called “You Got Booked,” and the other is a new video, Mass Incarceration and the Christian Mandate. (The video appears at the end of this article.)
In the United States, 2.3 million people, including disproportionate numbers of people of color, migrants and people with mental illnesses, are locked up in federal and state prisons, as well as local jails—a problem often referred to as mass incarceration.
‘You Got Booked’
Youth attending the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, Missouri, this summer were among the first to debut the “You Got Booked” resource.
Groups of participants were assigned character roles that had predetermined resources, such as a townhouse, criminal record, a job or public housing. Depending on the space a group lands on or the card it pulls, the character must do certain actions, such as prove citizenship, get a job, vote, apply for a loan or get paid.
For example, a character that lands on space 35, represented by a large card on the floor, may get paid $100 if he has invested in private prisons or need to pay $1 if he is in prison. Or a character may discover, on space 16, that he has a mental illness. If he is employed, the character gets medicine from his health-care plan. If he’s not employed, he must pay $10.
Although the learning activity uses some game elements, the experience quickly becomes sobering. As teams move through the spaces, the leader reads statistics and facts that show the discrimination real people, like their characters, face.
After the youth finished the exercise, many said they were startled and shocked by the information they learned along the way. “Bleak,” “rigged” and “unfair” were just some of the words they used to describe the systems that sent people, especially people of color, to prison.
“The biggest thing I learned is that white privilege is in our world, and we need to overcome it as a country,” said Devin Cable, 19, of Somerset, Pennsylvania.
The resource is appropriate for ages youth to adult, and MCC regional office staff are available to meet with groups and guide discussion.
Video: Mass Incarceration and the Christian Mandate
To accompany “You Got Booked” or use on its own, the video Mass Incarceration and the Christian Mandate begins and ends with stories of two returned citizens who spent 10 and 17 years each behind bars.
Between their stories are facts and statistics about how the U.S. judicial system not only discriminates against people of color but has spawned an $80 billion incarceration industry in the last 40 years. With such profit there’s little incentive for prison reform and a strong motivation to keep a steady supply of prisoners flowing into prison.
“The Christian church needs to stand up (and say) that humans are not slaves; humans are not to be used in such a way for corporate gain for others,” says Cyneatha Millsaps on the video. She is a former MCC Great Lakes program coordinator.
She and other MCC staff members call for action, such as establishing restorative justice programs, working for prison reform and supporting those in prison and returning citizens.
MCC’s partners—Working Men for Christ of Wichita, Kansas, and Kingdom Builders of Philadelphia—are profiled as examples of how Christians can support returning citizens. Giving prisoner care kits through MCC East Coast and returning citizen care kits from MCC Central States are small ways MCC helps people care for those who are in prison or released from it.
“We are followers of Jesus, and how would Jesus walk in these settings?” Millsaps asks in another section of the video. “What you did to the least of these you did also unto me. So one of the biggest things the church has to understand is the church has to get to work. We’ve been sitting on the sidelines a little too long.”
Kristine Bunch, who spent 17 years behind bars before she was exonerated of all charges and set free, encourages everyone to get involved in addressing injustices and healing the pain experienced by those who have been in prison.
“I think it important to know that whether or not you know about the criminal justice system you have something to offer.…It does not have to be anything more than your time and your voice.”
The video is available here:
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