Organizations partner to take next steps on “Ban the Box” legislation
By Charles Hallman
The Minneapolis League of Women Voters is hosting “Interrupting the Prison Pipeline” program March 6 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.
“I think people are realizing that prisons really don’t work in the structure that they are set up in now,” admits Rev. Brian Herron, pastor of Zion Baptist Church. He is among several individuals scheduled to speak during the program.
The free event, which begins at 5:30 pm with a resource fair, and the panel discussion, begins at 7 pm. It is part of the League of Women Voters Minneapolis’ Healthy Communities Forum sponsored by a number of local and state-based organizations, including the Minnesota State Baptist Convention, which Herron is a member.
“My role on the panel is to talk about mentoring,” says Herron. “Most of these folk that come out [of prison or jail] only got the same people they get into trouble [with] — they burn bridges with family and good friends.” He also hopes to stress the importance of connecting inmates with someone who is “interested in their life and is willing to walk with them on their journey, [a person] whose life has turned around and can show them something different.”
After the person serves their time in jail or prison, they too often experience “continual punishment” afterwards in finding employment and housing, Herron points out. “It’s one thing to punish someone for their action and there should be consequences for their action, but the punishment can’t be continual,” he says. “At some point it has to stop and people [need] to have the opportunity to have a second chance… If you had a felony you can’t do or have that job — it just doesn’t make any sense.
“The second thing is that [there has] to be a conversation with CEOs of companies, and where it makes sense and where the offense doesn’t involve anything that is going to negatively affect the company, then we have to not just ban the box [on employment applications] but have a policy that everyone deserves a job and deserves to be hired, and that felony can’t be a scarlet letter issued as a reject in our society. Once you have served your time, personally I believe we need to do away with the whole idea of carrying around a label of ‘felon’ or ‘felony.”
Herron says he supports the “Ban the Box” legislation but adds, “I think that was cosmetic but I think it was an important step because it opens up a bigger conversation. We have to look at the laws on the books and see if it makes sense.”
The North Minneapolis pastor and former Minneapolis City Councilman fully understand this issue. Herron once served time in prison. It isn’t a glamorous life, he testifies.
“There’s nothing more telling for me when I was incarcerated than to be in that phone room,” remembers Herron. “One of the worst things about incarceration is that you are segregated and separated from everyone you love, and your community.
“The other thing [is that] once you are incarcerated,” he notes, “there’s nothing you can do about it. If they don’t let you out for your grandmother’s funeral, there’s nothing you can do about it. If your child is acting out, there’s nothing you can do about it. If your woman has another man, or is struggling paying the bills and losing the house, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Prison life is nothing like it is often portrayed in videos and movies, say Herron. “I think there are a lot of brothers and sisters who would speak to that, and speak to these young people and tell them that it is not what it looks like on TV or played out in videos. It is a very traumatic experience to be incarcerated. It takes away all dignity, and just really strips you of your manhood or your womanhood.
“You’re herded like cattle and counted like cattle. You’re told what to do and when to do it, and how to do it. It is a horrible experience. There’s nothing redeeming about it.”
Although both genders are affected, “Black males are definitely affected because there already is a stigma on them,” says Herron. “Not only the stigma of their skin color and the fear of who they are but now there’s the stigma of the prison time and the felony, whether that was for a nonviolent crime or not. They’re treated as though it was for something that was real heinous.”
Plymouth Congregational Church is located on Nicollet and Franklin. For more information call the League of Women Voters Minneapolis at 612-333-6319.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]