Tag: felon disenfranchisement

The Man in Orange meets the Grey Lady

By Alan Bean

Forty days ago, I sat down in Kent McKeever’s office in Waco.  It was the first day of a Lenten fast in which the lawyer-pastor would give up free world respectability by wearing the orange jumpsuit of the incarcerated.  He never dreamed that his story would end up in the New York Times, but so it has.

Kent wanted to use his blog to draw attention to mass incarceration and what the experts call “felon disenfranchisement”.  The normal course would have been to rail against the powers and principalities of this evil age.  That would have garnered a few hundred hits, a few thousand at best, and most of the readers would be in full agreement with his perspective.

But following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, Kent decided to dramatize his message, even if that cost him the anonymity and social comfort that comes with being a white male in a town owned and operated by white males.

In today’s blog post, Kent voices his amazement at the attention his symbolic gesture has received.  He shares three experiences from Good Friday including this:

My parents are in town for the weekend so we went to a local restaurant for some takeout.  As we waited for our food, a couple of the staff mentioned that they had been reading about me.  I gave them my usual smile and thanks, and kept sipping my water.  And then Juan came up to our table where we waited.  He said he heard what I was doing and wanted to shake my hand.  He knew what I was wearing.  He had been there.  He thanked me.  I asked how long he had been out.  Two years.  And he had been blessed with a job at this restaurant since he got out.  Things were going pretty well for him, praise God.  But I could still see a remnant of that shame that we unnecessarily and without mercy place on people like Juan.  We shook hands again, he thanked me, I told him it was a blessing for me, and he concluded, “We’re not all bad people.” 

Amen, Juan.  Amen.  And that’s 40 Days in Orange.


An Orange Jumpsuit for Lent

APRIL 18, 2014

Kent McKeever has been summoned for jury duty twice. The second time was on March 17, more than a week into Lent, so he had no choice but to wear his orange prison jumpsuit. As he entered the McLennan County courthouse in Waco, Tex., two sheriff’s officers stopped him.

“The first one just kind of looks at me. He asks, ‘Where’d you get that?’ ”

“I said, ‘At the jail supply company.’ ”

“ ‘They sold it to you?’ ”

“ ‘I told them it was for personal use.’ And he was, like, ‘Hmm.’ ”

Mr. McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister at Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, had prepared for worse when he committed to wearing the jumpsuit for Lent. After years of providing both spiritual and legal assistance to the poor and formerly incarcerated, it was time to do something more visible to call attention to the nation’s prison crisis, and to the obstacles inmates face on returning to society. But 40 days is a long time to dress like a convict, especially in Texas.

Kent McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister, is dressing like a convict for 40 days.CreditDylan Hollingsworth for The New York Times
Kent McKeever, a lawyer and part-time youth minister, is dressing like a convict for 40 days.CreditDylan Hollingsworth for The New York Times

“A couple different people said, ‘I hope you don’t get shot!’ ” Mr. McKeever recalled on Wednesday, Day 37, speaking by phone from his primary job, as the director at Mission Waco Legal Services, where he helps clients navigate the legal barriers they face at every turn. “I didn’t know what people’s reactions would be. But I knew that I personally needed to experience what it feels like to be rejected and have stigma attached to you. As a white professional male, I’ve never had that experience before.” (more…)

“Employment is essential for people who have broken the law and are trying to reenter society”

By Alan Bean

I spent last night with 15 homeless men at Broadway Baptist Church.  For the past six or seven years, a number of Fort Worth congregations open their doors to homeless people during the hottest and coldest months of the year.  This was my first time, but our guests knew the drill.  Upon arrival, they got out their mattresses and settled in.  Some of the men spent the evening playing cards and chatting with church members, but most turned in immediately after dinner.  This morning, they ate the hot breakfast we prepared, then wiped their tables, stacked the chairs and swept the floor without a word of instruction from anyone.

Some of the men shared their stories with me, others did not; but not a single man is homeless by choice.  Many of them would be working if they could, but jobs are in short supply, especially if you have a prison record.  This morning I found a message from Mark Mauer of the Sentencing Project in my inbox. (more…)