It hurts us all

My name is Ben Whalen. I’m a white guy who grew up middle class from the suburbs. I’ve lived a fairly privilege life.  For a long time, I was ignorant of the systemic injustices present in our justice system. I bought into the dominant narrative that only “bad guys” go to jail and get what they deserve for the crimes they committed. It wasn’t until I moved to the Twin Cities after college and got involved in advocacy and community organizing groups that I started to question that narrative. I now have multiple friends with criminal records who’ve told me about the challenges they face  to find housing and jobs long after they’ve served their time. I’ve listened to the stories from my friends who are people of color about how police arrested them, beat them, and assumed they were criminals because they “fit the description.” I’ve had friends who were exercising their right to protest, advocating for police accountability, who’ve been met with similar treatment from the police. I’ve now read about and listened to experts on mass incarceration explain how it perpetuates systemic racism. After all of this, I cannot remain silent.

In college, I had the opportunity to visit South Africa and learn about its history and culture. One idea that has stuck with me is “ubuntu,” described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as “knowing that [each of us] belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.” This idea resonated strongly with me, my faith, and my deep empathy for others long before I started volunteering with TakeAction Minnesota. At the last Justice 4 All Community Member Meeting, we talked about liberation and how each of our liberation is bound up in one another’s – the same concept as ubuntu. I fight to end mass incarceration and the privileged ignorance of its existence, because I am deeply hurt by the systematic oppression of others.

We can talk about the economic impact on society of locking people up. We can talk about the effect it has on families and communities to pull people out of society. We can talk about the injustice of discriminating against those with a criminal record long after they have served their time. All these things are valid and deserve to be talked about. But beneath all of these facts and details, there is a brokenness in my heart and soul that cannot be made whole while this injustice continues. That is why I advocate for laws around sentencing reform, police accountability, and restoring voting rights. That is why I listen to the stories of those who have been incarcerated. That is why I – a white, middle-class, male with a single traffic ticket as the grand total of my encounters with the justice system – fight for criminal justice reform and justice for all.

If you also want to be a part of this great change, one way to jump right in is by joining us this Thursday at 6pm for the next J4A Community Member Meeting. I’d encourage you to come whether you have been doing this for years, or barely know what I’m talking about. The work is important and your voice is needed. Please RSVP at this link: https://act.myngp.com/Forms/-4995634809957971968