In September 2015 MCC East Coast hosted the first “Pipeline to prison” learning tour in Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pa. This was followed in March 2017 by an MCC Central States learning tour in New Orleans, partnering with a local grassroots organization, Communities Rising.
The tours exposed participants to the oppressive structures that lead to mass incarceration and the criminalization of marginalized groups. Participants wrestled with the systemic and spiritual complexities of mass incarceration through studying books like The New Jim Crow and packing prisoner care kits as a tangible way to respond.
The tours connected broader advocacy efforts with work being done locally. Participants visited prisons, juvenile justice facilities and local organizations supporting those in prison as well as those returning to our communities.
They heard the impact of incarceration on those working to be successful upon their release and their families who have had to shoulder the responsibility of caring for children while their loved one is absent. They heard from organizations whose work is carried out through a restorative lens that looks at systemic issues as well as relationships impacted, including those who have been harmed and those who have caused harm.
Learning tour participants commented that the learning tour helped them understand how their comfort is tied up with the slavery and oppression of others, helped them realize the need to listen to local community leaders, made them realize the importance of asking “who benefits?” and taught them the need to address their own white privilege.
Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz is restorative justice coordinator for MCC U.S.