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Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about ending slavery.

In the Old Testament reading, God decisively delivers the people from economic and political slavery. Still, they refuse to obey God’s voice. (Jeremiah 11:1-8) In the Epistle reading, Paul says that, by being united with Christ, we are no longer enslaved to sin but walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-11) In the Gospel reading, Jesus warns that “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” but that he can make us free. (John 8:34-36)

In this nation, slaves were freed by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. In 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.


Eastern State Penitentiary – Photo by Howard Zehr

But as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, mass incarceration is today’s racialized system of control. Alexander notes that, in a 30-year time span beginning in the early 1980s, the U.S. prison population mushroomed from 300,000 to more than 2 million, in large part due to harsher sentencing laws for drug convictions. But while “studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates… In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men.”

And once a person receives the label “felon” – even after released from prison — they often lose significant privileges of citizenship and “find themselves locked out of the mainstream society and economy – permanently.”

If there is a silver lining, it is the broad bipartisan support for addressing mass incarceration – both because of the racial inequities in the criminal justice system and the extraordinary cost of incarcerating more than 7 out of every 1,000 Americans. (See Prison Policy Initiative report)

Mr. President, I urge you work with Congress and the nation’s governors to reform this broken system. It is a win-win issue for Republicans and Democrats. And it is a crucial step toward healing justice for our nation.


J. Daryl Byler