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.
About the Author
Reuben Jonathan Miller is a sociologist, criminologist and a social worker who teaches at the University of Chicago in the School of Social Service Administration where he studies and writes about race, democracy, and the social life of the city. He has been a member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton New Jersey, a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, and a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin and Dartmouth College. A native son of Chicago, he lives with his wife and children on the city’s Southside.
Recommended by Jamila Michener on The Ezra Klein Podcast
“The imprint of incarceration on Miller’s life allows him to see and understand things other ethnographers often miss or overlook when they study the caging of citizens. He writes not only as a brilliant scholar, but also as a credible witness.”—Efren Paredes, Jr.
“I have read dozens of books about mass incarceration, but I had never read one quite like Reuben Jonathan Miller’s Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration. Scholars have long attempted to prove the rigor of their work by demonstrating their “objectivity”— Miller demonstrates that his proximity to the issue of incarceration better equips him to write about it. It’s a simple yet profound insight that gives the book a valuable richness.” —Clint Smith, The Atlantic
“In Halfway Home, Miller wants us to understand incarceration’s “afterlife”. The book is the culmination of Miller’s research in Chicago and Detroit… it’s also deeply informed by his own personal experiences with the carceral system...Hearts and minds, in this sense, have little to do with people’s feelings. Miller, with this powerful book, implores us to try.”—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
“Miller writes about criminal justice with the expertise of a legal scholar, but his life experiences and training as a social worker endow his analysis with a vividness and empathy that elude some other critiques of mass incarceration. And he tells stories with a plaintive lyricism that reminded me that Black folks in Chicago were primary creators of the American musical tradition known as the blues.”—Paul Butler, Washington Post
“Impressive…Miller writes in prose that is at once powerful and engaging...This seminal work tracks the path of how we got here.”—NPR.org
“Through vivid stories and evidence of this afterlife…Miller describes “a new kind of prison”…in heartbreaking prose.”—National Book Review
"For incarcerated persons in the United States, release does not equal freedom. Miller’s first book is an important, harrowing ethnographic study that reads like a keenly observed memoir, which, in part, it is. His own father and brothers having been imprisoned, Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, is candidly close to his research on mass incarceration and its after effects. This is essential reading for all who care about justice in contemporary America.”
—Library Journal, starred review
"Striking a unique balance between memoir and sociological treatise, this bracing account makes clear just how high the deck is stacked against the formerly incarcerated."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Reminiscent of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Miller’s well-argued book delivers a scarifying account of law gone awry.”—Kirkus, starred review