Playing time: 
Exploring the issues and barriers as ex-prisoners reintegrate into our community.

MCC U.S. announces two new learning resources that explore systemic reasons and injustices that cause mass incarceration. One is an interactive activity called “You Got Booked” and the other is a new video, Mass incarceration: a Christian mandate.

In the U.S. 2.3 million people, including disproportionate numbers of people of color, migrants and people with mental illnesses, are locked up in federal and state prison, as well as local jails – a problem often referred to as mass incarceration.

'You got booked'

Youth attending the Mennonite Church USA conference in Kansas City, Missouri, this summer were among the first to debut the “You Got Booked” resource.

A group of youth attending the 2019 Mennonite Church USA conference explore the learning exercise, “You Got Booked,” through the experience of character Jim Smith, who has a college degree, a job and $100.MC USA/Kenneth Krehbiel

Groups of participants were assigned to 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 they pull, 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 who 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. 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 that real people, like their characters, face.

Karin Kaufman Wall, peace and justice education coordinator for MCC Central States, leads youth at the 2019 Mennonite Church USA conference in the learning exercise, “You Got Booked.” The cards on the floor lead participants to discussion on different topics.MC USA/Kenneth Krehbiel

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.

Devin Cable, 19, of Somerset, Pennsylvania, discusses MCC’s “You Got Booked” learning activity with people in his group. MC USA/Kenneth Krehbiel

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 to 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 spawned an $80 billion incarceration industry in the last 40 years. With such profit there’s little incentive for prison reform and a strong reason 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,” said 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.

Edward Jackson, construction manager for Kingdom Builders Construction (KBC), works at renovating an old church building. The organization trains and provides employment opportunities for underemployed people in Philadelphia, especially returning citizens. MCC photo/Melissa Engle Hess

MCC’s partners ‒ Working Men for Christ of Wichita, Kansas, and Kingdom Builders of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ‒ 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. “That which 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.”

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.”

- Cyneatha Millsaps, former MCC Great Lakes program coordinator

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 experienced prison.

“I think it important to know that whether or not you know about the criminal justice system, that you have something to offer. …It does not have to be anything more than your time and your voice.”

The full 16-minute video can be viewed below, on MCC’s YouTube channel or downloaded from Contact the peace and justice coordinator at your regional MCC office to request or learn more about “You Got Booked.”

Mass incarceration and the Christian mandate

The term "mass incarceration" refers to the unique way the U.S. has locked up a vast population.
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