There’s a story about a couple of guys back in the day who were talking about their problems. One was flat broke. He asked his friend for a loan. His friend replied, “I’ll lend you money when the president is Black and the Pope is Latino.”
I hope dude has his boy’s phone number.
Things change that we never thought we’d see. And one of them is that people, like popes and presidents, are listening to us.
And if so, it’s about time.
The Pope seems to be listening. He visited Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia this past Sunday. The president seemed to be listening to us when he visited El Reno Federal Prison, excerpts of which were aired Sunday evening on Vice network. President Obama opened his conversation with El Reno residents by telling them he was interested in reforming the system, and developing stronger supports for those coming home from jail and prison. He had come to El Reno, he said, because “I want to hear your stories.”
We all have stories, stories about how we got to prison, what is was like, and what is happening now. What the president’s interviews revealed was how our stories are not ours alone. Our families and friends, our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers all feel the impact of our decisions. They also feel the impact of harsh, disproportionate sentences imposed on people of color, disparate policing policies in our neighborhoods (if you didn’t see the show, a cop talked about how they were supposed to police our neighborhoods differently, and that middle class white folks would never let them get away with that stuff; I hope he has insurance), and politicians trying to win elections by being tough on crime.
The president’s visit was designed to give us more visibility, and shine a light on the human cost of what has gone wrong with our system of criminal (in)justice. And now that you’re home- or once you get home- what will you do with the spotlight? Because even though you may not be president or pope, you can use your voice to change the system, like the people I sat with the day after the Pope’s visit and the POTUS TV show, who are working to restore voting rights in Florida. Or the guys I’ll be working with in twelve cities in seven states in the next month to mobilize for more reentry support systems. It’s time for real talk when somebody’s listening.
Rev. Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D. is an associate professor of applied theology at Howard University’s School of Divinity. He also works on behalf of prisoners and returning citizens as the national director of Healing Communities USA, a reentry initiative. Dr. Trulear is also a former inmate.