Halfway Home

Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration


By Reuben Jonathan Miller

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A "persuasive and essential" (Matthew Desmond) work that will forever change how we look at life after prison in America through Miller's "stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation's carceral system" (Heather Ann Thompson).

Each year, more than half a million Americans are released from prison and join a population of twenty million people who live with a felony record.

Reuben Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and now a sociologist studying mass incarceration, spent years alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, their friends, and their families to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. What his work revealed is a simple, if overlooked truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison. The idea that one can serve their debt and return to life as a full-fledge member of society is one of America's most nefarious myths. Recently released individuals are faced with jobs that are off-limits, apartments that cannot be occupied and votes that cannot be cast.

As The Color of Law exposed about our understanding of housing segregation, Halfway Home shows that the American justice system was not created to rehabilitate. Parole is structured to keep classes of Americans impoverished, unstable, and disenfranchised long after they've paid their debt to society.

Informed by Miller's experience as the son and brother of incarcerated men, captures the stories of the men, women, and communities fighting against a system that is designed for them to fail. It is a poignant and eye-opening call to arms that reveals how laws, rules, and regulations extract a tangible cost not only from those working to rebuild their lives, but also our democracy. As Miller searchingly explores, America must acknowledge and value the lives of its formerly imprisoned citizens.

PEN America 2022 John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction Finalist

Winner of the 2022 PROSE Award for Excellence in Social Sciences

2022 PROSE Awards Finalist

2022 PROSE Awards Category Winner for Cultural Anthropology and Sociology

An NPR Selected 2021 Books We Love

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Something Like an Introduction

I'd grown accustomed to the sounds of buzzers and gray steel doors shutting and locking behind me. It's not like in the movies. The men who live there don't flinch when the gates close. The smell of must, instant coffee, hastily brushed teeth, unwashed jumpsuits, and stomach flu tells you precisely where you are. But learning how to get around a place like this is an altogether different question. Underground passageways, some narrower and dingier than others, connect ten divisions sprawled across a ninety-six-acre compound. The campus feels stitched together. Red-brick, whitewashed, and gray stone buildings, each built at a different architectural moment, stretch up several stories before stretching out a full square mile; they're connected by sidewalk trails, "the yard," and hints of green space. Lines leading into the main dormitories wrap around the block-long brick-and-concrete walls that separate men and women in cages from their loved ones. The pace inside is slow but dizzying. A Frankenstein of a jail complex, Cook County is a patchwork of construction projects and racial politics lurching from the eighteenth century into the twenty-first.

In 1779, Chicago's black immigrant founder, trapper and fur trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, was arrested by the British under suspicion of "intercourse with the enemy."1 He was Chicago's first "permanent non-indigenous resident"2—that is to say, he was the land's first colonial settler.3 Du Sable must have stood out in a world of colonists at war with the "savages" and the elements and their own beasts of burden. And the colonists were at war with themselves—the French against the British and the British against the newly formed United States, asserting its right to be free. They warred over the right to take native lands, though all of them owned black slaves.4 In the middle of the American Revolution, eighty-four years before the Great Emancipator ordered black freedom in the rogue states,5 a free Haitian, son of a Frenchman and a formerly enslaved African woman, established a farm and trading post in the not yet settled marshland of Eschecagou (Chicago).6 Du Sable raised two "quadroon" children on the bank of the Chicago River with his Potawatomi wife, Kittahawa.7 In a sign of things to come, historians first encounter du Sable through the account of his jailer.8 Arent Schuyler de Peyster, the British commandant of Fort Michilimackinac, wrote that du Sable was a "handsome negro, (well-educated and settled in Eschecagou) but much in the French interest,"9 and that he sent him to Detroit, the coming symbol of American progress and decline. Du Sable would manage trade between the Brits, his captors; the French, who used to occupy that land; and the "Indians," with whom he found family.10 Having built the first home and established the first trading post in what would become a global city, du Sable amassed some wealth.11 Yet he died like many formerly incarcerated black men—penniless in his final years, his very American story almost lost to history.12

Two centuries later, the psychologist Winston Moore, a "bear of a man" nicknamed "Buddha" by his colleagues, was appointed "America's first black Warden." Presiding over the notorious and poorly run Cook County Jail, Moore was given the task of reforming and expanding it.13 He was a tough-on-crime kind of guy, working in the shadow of Nixon's many wars—on hippies, on the poor, on drug addicts, on black protesters mourning the murders of their leaders.14 Moore once penned an essay, published in Ebony, faulting black people for their "extraordinary tolerance" of "the growing army of black criminals." The black community, he wrote, needed "a massive re-education campaign" to "expose black criminals for what they are, not heroes but deadly enemies."15 Despite Moore's law-and-order politics and identification with "hard working black people" who just "wanted their ghettos back," his tough demeanor backfired. Blamed for the jail's many failures, including the escape of thirty-eight people, he was shamed, arrested, and fired from his job under allegations that he beat three prisoners, a political move that esteemed black journalist Vernon Jarrett called the return of "dunk the darkie."16 Moore was subjected to a very public trial and considerable public scorn. And while the charges were dropped, the damage had been done. The city founded by a black "ex-convict" tried to convict its first black jailer.17

That Moore was tried in the courthouse he helped to fill reveals much about American so-called race relations and the uneven administration of what we've misrecognized as justice. The word justice suggests some harm repaired or some truth revealed, but 95 percent of all court cases end in a plea deal after a person has spent anywhere from several weeks to several years in a cage. Of the 2.3 million people who are incarcerated, 40 percent are black, 84 percent are poor, and half have no income at all.18 The 2,626 people who have been exonerated since 1989 spent an average of nine years in prison for crimes they did not commit.19 Nearly half are black, and almost all of them are poor. It is clear to anyone paying attention that the legal system does not administer anything resembling justice but instead manages the nation's problemed populations.20

This is the weight and history of punishment in the United States, which poor people encounter before their arrests. To live through mass incarceration is to take part in a lineage of control that can be traced from the slave ships, through the Jim Crow South, to the ghettos of the North, and to the many millions of almost-always-filled bunk beds in jails and prison cells that make the United States the world's leading jailer.21

Neither Moore nor du Sable fully rebounded from their encounters with the law. This is because a history of arrest, whether it leads to a conviction or not, whether the conviction is overturned or not, is just like any other history, especially those told inaccurately.22 It need not be well understood, or even true, to exercise power. The history of punishment and black incarceration, of racism and the production of race, the whole history of crime and criminality haunt the people we've accused of crimes. It whispers into the ears of prospective employers and landlords, urging them to reject applications. And it whispers into the ears of grandmothers and girlfriends as they make life-or-death decisions on behalf of their loved ones, forcing them to withhold a couch to sleep on or risk eviction to help them because the state has labeled the people they care for most criminals. Mass incarceration has changed the social life of the city. It has filtered into the most intimate relationships and deformed the contours of American democracy, one poor (and most often) black family at a time.

Winston Moore was a member of the political elite, a man who, through his long list of connections, could avoid getting caught in the leviathan's teeth. He was arrested and fired twice, once under scandal and once for criticizing his employer. But Moore, who could hire an attorney, did not spend a single night in jail. And while you can ask any Illinois governor if the occupant of that office can survive a brush with the law,23 the experiences of the political class, like those of the economic elite, are far from typical. Rod Blagojevich, who was an attorney and the most recent governor in Illinois to be convicted, went to federal prison for trying to sell President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat in 2008. He was caught on tape soliciting bribes and was convicted in federal court,24 but he somehow found the time between his trial and incarceration to appear on Donald Trump's reality-TV show Celebrity Apprentice. Trump granted Blagojevich clemency in the third year of his presidency. "If we really wish to know how justice is administered," James Baldwin tells us in No Name in the Street, we must "go to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law's protection most!—and listen to their testimony.… Ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice," he writes, "and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it."

Let us go, then, to hear the stories that only the people we've labeled criminals can tell us about their lives. But we should not just go to the obvious places where the poor come into contact with the law, like the jails and prisons where they languish or the street corners where police detain them. To fully understand mass incarceration, we must go to the neighborhoods that hemmed them in long before they occupied cages, the same places that serve as their confines for years after they return. We must wait with them for a space to open in the halfway house or in the shelter, because the laws and policies that the U.S. government has enacted ensure there is no place for them to go. We must sit in the homes of the parents, lovers, and children who share their burdens. And we must march with the formerly incarcerated as they resist the slow death of hunger and cold.


The story of mass incarceration in America is bigger than American jails and prisons, even with their two million captives. And it's bigger than probation and parole, even with the five million people held in the prison of their homes through ankle bracelets, weekly drug tests, and GPS technology. This is because mass incarceration has an afterlife, and that afterlife is a supervised society—a hidden social world and an alternate legal reality. The prison lives on through the people who've been convicted long after they complete their sentences, and it lives on through the grandmothers, lovers, and children forced to share their burdens because they are never really allowed to pay their so-called debt to society.

Today, 19.6 million people live with a felony record,25 four times the size of the population on probation and parole, and ten times the size of the American prison census. Almost all of these people lived in dire poverty before they entered a cage, and they return to these same conditions on the day of their release. One-third are black; one in three currently living black American men have felony records. And while the number of black women held behind bars is eight times higher today than it was in 1980, the reach of the carceral state does not stop at the threshold of the black family.

Forty-five thousand federal and state laws regulate the lives of the accused. They dictate where and with whom they may live and what they may do with their days. The greatest harms are concentrated at the state level, reaching into their neighborhoods. In Michigan, there are 789 of these laws. In Illinois, there are over 1,400, including more than 1,000 employment regulations, 186 policies that limit political participation, 54 laws restricting family rights, and 21 housing statutes. In most states, this means that people with criminal records may not hold public office or live in public housing. They can be fired from their jobs on the whim of their employers or have their applications for apartments denied, even when they have the jobs, the credit scores, and the references to qualify otherwise. In some states, they may not be allowed to vote. With few places to work or live and fewer ways to change the circumstances they face, they still may not qualify for food stamps or student loans to go back to school and improve their living conditions. They may have to give up their parental rights. They certainly may not adopt children or even live in a home with a foster child. They may not be able to leave the country, and, for some crimes, they can't even leave the state. It doesn't matter that they've finished probation or that their incarceration was decades ago. They can still be rejected, and there's nothing that anyone can do.

If all politics are local, law-and-order politics are hyper-local. Over half of the thirty-five thousand people released from Illinois prisons annually return to Chicago, and half of them, about nine thousand people, to just six of the city's poorest neighborhoods. All six areas have crime, arrest, and unemployment rates triple the national average, with black Americans accounting for 90 percent of their residents, save one neighborhood that is over 90 percent black and Latinx.26

No other marginalized group—not poor black people without criminal records, not mothers on welfare, not even undocumented immigrants—experience this profound level of legal exclusion. No other group shoulders the burdens of social policy in quite the same way. The laws and statutes our elected officials enacted at the federal and local level, most of them passed in the 1980s and 1990s during the so-called tough-on-crime era, have altered, fundamentally, the public and private lives of millions of Americans. The supervised society has produced a new form of citizenship through practices of punishment and exclusion that target our nation's poorest families.

Criminal justice reform has focused on the near-term goals of building better prisons and providing more services for the people who are eventually released. We've failed to see, or perhaps we've ignored, how the ways we've chosen to punish the poor extend far beyond the prison's walls and start long before an arrest occurs. This, too, is part of the afterlife of mass incarceration and a condition we have not yet reckoned with. An entire class of people are presumed guilty of some unspecified crime long before they break a law.

Were we to better understand the living conditions of the people we've labeled criminals, we might not wonder what they did to deserve poverty, prison, or the police officer's bullet. Were we to aim our gaze at the everyday routines of arrest, incarceration, and release or at what it takes to piece together a life after being branded ex-convict, ex-offender, or ex-felon, we might be curious about how such practices abide in the land of the free. We might ask what it means to carry the weight of being already accused as we weather life's predictable tragedies—caring for the sick or burying the dead and dealing with the adversities that come.

Halfway Home is an invitation to go with the nation's castaways as they gather their belongings, spend time with their loved ones, and try to make lives for themselves. The book travels back in time to show the beginnings of the supervised society, which started in 1972, although its roots run much deeper. And it travels forward through the lives of the people you will meet in its pages, beginning with their earliest encounters with the law. I went where the action is—to the social-service centers and food pantries where people with records struggle to find ways to feed themselves and fill the bellies of their hungry and embarrassed children. And I went to the church basements where men slept when they had nowhere else to go. I went to the corners where poor black kids smiled awkwardly in staged video clips as police officers, who are filmed every day killing people just like them, bring gifts of potato chips, blue juice, bottled water, fruit chews, and prayer. We've erected a supervised society where these kinds of experiences are justified because they happen so often that we've learned to take them for granted. To grasp the inner workings of this alternate legal reality requires us to pay attention to people we've learned not to see. And it requires us to get close to people we've learned to fear and dismiss.


When I arrived at the Cook County Jail in the fall of 2003, a twenty-something religious volunteer, ethical commitments on my sleeve, the first black warden had long since accomplished his task of "reform" by expanding the jail. Winston Moore's administration tripled the jail's daily capacity, going from thirteen hundred inmates in 1969 to four thousand by the time he was fired under scandal. Twenty-five years and several construction projects later, there were ten thousand almost-always-filled jail beds. Millions of people had passed through the courthouse, and millions more did time. Today, one hundred thousand men, women, and teenagers, nearly half of whom are awaiting their trials, circulate between the Cook County Jail and some poor black neighborhood on the South Side or West Side of Chicago each year.27

Long lines of visitors snake around corners outside the entrances to each of the main dormitories. Once visitors get inside the first gate, longer lines mark the pilgrimage of overworked public defenders, parents and grandparents, social workers, wives, husbands, and partners, some with strollers, others holding the hands of their little ones, huddled together under the elements. They fix shirts, braid hair, discipline children, forget to hide cell phones, lose and regain their place in line, all while being herded single file into the lobbies and waiting areas of the buildings that cage their loved ones.

The line moves through a second gate that leads out to a sidewalk and, eventually, to the main entrance. Family members make their way to the front desk. One line is for visitation, another is to post bail, a third is to retrieve property. Visitors wait at the head of their line, ignored for several beats before some administrator, peering over her glasses, acknowledges their turn. Having barely answered their questions—about property, about visiting hours, about what might or might not be considered contraband—the administrator reminds them that the rules are posted online and then directs them to hard plastic chairs. The visitors take seats, wait their turn to be metal-detected and patted down, then sit again, passing the time in relative silence. Twenty minutes later, they are led through a doorway into another waiting area, where they sit for their half-hour visits, guards monitoring their affections.

These lines are not the only ones. Behind the walls and Plexiglas and locked, sallow, whitewashed cinder-block corridors, men, sometimes chained, shuffle single file down the hallways. Even those who walk freely do so in rows.

The jargon thrown around in this jail doesn't seem to describe the things men do. Movement, meds, and yard seem best fit for herding cattle. When "feeding time" is announced, some man in oversize khakis hauling an industrial-strength black garbage bag filled with bologna or ham sandwiches on white bread, sometimes with oranges and cartons of milk, makes his way to the front of the wing to pass out his goods.

I was a volunteer chaplain, Bible tucked under my arm. I used a pass that allowed me to move to the front of the line. I was greeted on the way by requests from grandmothers with loved ones behind bars. They would ask for me to see about their sons or pray for pending court cases or talk about evictions or pains in their legs or being tired or having lost a job. I was struck by their kindness. I was also glad for the fraternity among service staff. Social workers and clergy depend on one another. The chaplains visit sick family members; they grieve and pray with the men. Social workers give referrals to drug-treatment programs and food pantries. They lend chaplains their offices to decompress, to tell a man his mother died, to have a cup of weak coffee, or to talk about something other than the jail. The nurses are always kind to the chaplains, and most seem kind to the men. The guards, some of them friendly, most ambivalent, a few unwelcoming, sometimes exchanged pleasantries with me and sometimes made requests. "You got an extra Bible?" or "God bless you, brother. Pray for me," they would say; occasionally they made conversation about their calling, the church they went to, or their wayward kids. Chaplains prayed for their upcoming surgeries or for their loved ones who'd died. When their children wound up in the jail, we went to sit with them quietly.

I became fast friends with many of these folks. At twenty-seven, I was one of the youngest of the visiting helping professionals. Besides the guards, there were few black men of any age helping, and the ones that visited regularly were in their sixties. I visited three of the jail's ten divisions, four to six hours per day, two to three days per week, for just over five years. I worked in the minimum-, medium-, and maximum-security wings of the jail, and I grew accustomed to the men's stories: Someone had shot someone else. Someone's mother was about to be evicted. Someone's grandfather died. Someone beat his girlfriend. Someone was framed. Someone was sick with the flu or diabetes or was suffering from withdrawal. Someone had lots of cash from selling dope. A few people asked about my life and motivations. A few called me a fraud. Some tried to convert me to their religions. Others were preachers themselves, men who swore they were different from their cell mates. Most were friendly, but from time to time I met some who were angry and not so orderly, who were dissatisfied with some aspect of how they were caged. Some complained about the guards that abused or mistreated them. Others yelled at me for interrupting their card games.

Once in a while, someone would threaten another man, like the one who would not tell me his name or shake my hand. He paced around the stainless-steel table where we held Bible study mouthing quiet, inaudible hostilities. He stopped behind a frail, graying, flamboyant man who attended our services who was rumored to have AIDS. We held hands and prayed while the cross-eyed, six-foot, three-hundred-pounder loomed over his shoulder, repeatedly clenching his fists. It's striking that the guards never noticed these kinds of things. They would leave me locked in a cell while they ran their errands. I grew accustomed to this neglect of my own safety and the safety of the men.

By the spring of 2006, I worked exclusively in division 10, the maximum-security dorm. The men sat at the benches in the common area, some playing cards but most watching Jerry Springer on the television set suspended high in the right corner of the wing. I arrived and gave the call for chapel, which was their cue to turn the TV down or off. A few men straggled over, some coming from the shower or from movement. I greeted them as they came forward. When about twenty men had arrived, we stood in a circle, held hands, and prayed for the service, for our families, and for God to "use us." One time, one of the men, whose name I never learned and who I would never see again, asked if he could sing a song. He left the circle and stood with his back toward his cell. He pounded his foot against the steel door to keep rhythm and led the clapping men in a rendition of the gospel song "Wait on the Lord."

Waiting was one of few things the men could depend on. Learning how to wait would come in handy. I heard countless stories of languishing. For one man, Lorenzo, it took nine continuances and nearly a year for the drug dealer he robbed to show up to court and testify against him, and Philip's story sticks with me. It had been three weeks since his booking and three weeks since he'd met with his public defender. We didn't discuss much about his case—I don't believe he trusted me—but the circumstances had something to do with a murder and the possibility of a seventy-nine-year prison sentence. Seventy-nine seemed like such an odd and arbitrary number. He was twenty-six, and I was twenty-eight. I had a young family and a job, and I had started graduate school. He had a young family and was unemployed, and he had not finished high school. Philip was preparing for trial, his fate in the hands of a judge and jury who had more in common with the prosecutor than with him and a public defender who was too busy to meet with him before his day in court. The world of prosecution, with its legalese and court routines, was as alien to Philip as the white, middle-aged jurist who would decide where he'd spend the next eight decades of his life. I identified with his predicament because of my own experience with the courts and my own feelings of powerlessness.

In the early 1980s, my grandmother, whom we called Ma Ma (pronounced "Mah-Ma"), took me to court with my two brothers, Joseph and Jeremiah. Our mother had left us at a police station. This was right before the crack era but after Reagan made a scandal out of the "welfare queen." The police station was one of the few places that a poor, drug-addicted, or mentally ill woman could leave the children she couldn't raise, or simply did not want to raise, without risking a charge of child neglect. The first custody hearing took place a few weeks after Ma Ma rescued us from the last of a series of foster homes. I was five. We had been in foster care for four years, and she was asking the family courts to name her our legal guardian. (The four of us would go to a hearing every few years after that.) I was the youngest of the boys, holding her hand as she stood before a judge who looked nothing like her, whose brief words we could hardly understand although they would determine the course of our lives together. I remember her face, which was animated with a slight sense of urgency, juxtaposed with his—stoic, silent. Then the judge made some brief pronouncement and she carried me away, Joseph and Jeremiah struggling to keep pace with her. Years later I would think about the many foster kids who wound up in prison—nearly half of them in some states. My family was no exception.

My brother Jeremiah was handed an eighteen-month sentence in the state of Michigan, where I lived and worked as a professor. My father's eldest son, Stephen, whom I didn't know growing up, went to prison while I was a teenager for reasons I never knew. My father had five sons, three of whom I never met, two of whom had been to prison. Years after I'd volunteered at the jail and after I had already started my research on the lives of people who leave prison, I met my father. I was twenty-eight and had never seen his face. He said he'd been locked up off and on for two decades.


  • Recommended by Jamila Michener on The Ezra Klein Podcast
  • “The imprint of incarceration on Miller’s life allows him to see and understand things other ethnographers often miss or overlook when they study the caging of citizens. He writes not only as a brilliant scholar, but also as a credible witness.”—Efren Paredes, Jr.
  • “I have read dozens of books about mass incarceration, but I had never read one quite like Reuben Jonathan Miller’s Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration. Scholars have long attempted to prove the rigor of their work by demonstrating their “objectivity”— Miller demonstrates that his proximity to the issue of incarceration better equips him to write about it. It’s a simple yet profound insight that gives the book a valuable richness.”  —Clint Smith, The Atlantic
  • “In Halfway Home, Miller wants us to understand incarceration’s “afterlife”. The book is the culmination of Miller’s research in Chicago and Detroit… it’s also deeply informed by his own personal experiences with the carceral system...Hearts and minds, in this sense, have little to do with people’s feelings. Miller, with this powerful book, implores us to try.”—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
  • “Miller writes about criminal justice with the expertise of a legal scholar, but his life experiences and training as a social worker endow his analysis with a vividness and empathy that elude some other critiques of mass incarceration. And he tells stories with a plaintive lyricism that reminded me that Black folks in Chicago were primary creators of the American musical tradition known as the blues.”—Paul Butler, Washington Post
  • “Impressive…Miller writes in prose that is at once powerful and engaging...This seminal work tracks the path of how we got here.”—NPR.org
  • “Through vivid stories and evidence of this afterlife…Miller describes “a new kind of prison”…in heartbreaking prose.”—National Book Review
  • "For incarcerated persons in the United States, release does not equal freedom. Miller’s first book is an important, harrowing ethnographic study that reads like a keenly observed memoir, which, in part, it is. His own father and brothers having been imprisoned, Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, is candidly close to his research on mass incarceration and its after effects. This is essential reading for all who care about justice in contemporary America.”
     —Library Journal, starred review
  • "Striking a unique balance between memoir and sociological treatise, this bracing account makes clear just how high the deck is stacked against the formerly incarcerated."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • “Reminiscent of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Miller’s well-argued book delivers a scarifying account of law gone awry.”—Kirkus, starred review
  • “Halfway Home is a vital and compelling account of the entangled legacies of racism, crime, and punishment in America. Miller shows how the nation’s experiment with mass incarceration harms those far removed from the prison's bars. Family members with incarcerated brothers and husbands confront confusing regulations that place restrictions on their loved ones and face impossible choices between caring for family members locked-up or those at home. This persuasive and essential work weaves together moral philosophy, in-depth interviews, legal theory, and personal history, reckoning with the meaning of justice and redemption in an unjust society.” ​—Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted
  • “As this beautifully written, stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation’s carceral system makes clear, we have not remotely yet grasped what drives it, nor how devastating is its reach. As Miller shows so powerfully, the damage done by this system has been so insidious, and so comprehensive, that certain Americans are always, in effect, doing time and, thus, to undo this crisis, and for most incarcerated Americans to truly ever be able to come “home,” will mean doing a whole lot more work than we have yet done.”—Heather Ann Thompson is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy
  • “In this subtle mix of memoir, meditation, and sociology, Reuben Miller takes us inside the lives of poor black men and their loved ones whose existences are mangled by the deadly combination of poverty, pain and prison. This vivid portrait of the penal state in action from the viewpoint of its targets will captivate scholars and energize activists for criminal justice reform.”—Loïc Wacquant, author of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity
  • Halfway Home  is a stunning book that vividly brings to life statistics on incarceration, recidivism, and life after prison. We see the impact of racism on the lived experience of the people Reuben Miller introduces us to. As in a powerful novel, the characters come alive for the reader. I was deeply moved by their stories, angered by the flagrant injustices of the so-called justice system, furious at the way impersonal bureaucratic regulations made rehabilitation virtually impossible, and awed by the persistence of those who managed—against all odds—to make new lives for themselves. What makes the book even more compelling is Miller’s own story, which is skillfully woven into this richly detailed narrative. Halfway Home comes at a moment of high consciousness about the problem of race in America; its portrayal of the human costs of prisons and post-incarceration will add a critical and clarifying dimension to the conversation.”—Joan W. Scott, Professor Emerita, Institute for Advanced Study
  • “Reuben Miller’s vivid and beautiful storytelling transports readers into the lives of families caught in the long shadow of mass incarceration. Halfway Home is a must read for anyone seeking to understand this American crisis, which should be all of us.”—H. Luke Shaefer, co-author of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America
  • “Miller lifts the veil that keeps most of us, even many criminal justice experts, from knowing the ‘prison beyond the prison’; the ‘supervised society’ to which legions of our fellow citizens are sentenced by birth, by race, and for life. Halfway Home  confronts the reader, whether system reformer or abolitionist, with the enormity of the task ahead if we are to overcome mass incarceration, and the certainty it will haunt any new institutions that arise to take its place.”—Jonathan Simon, author of Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prison in America
  • “Reuben Miller’s brilliant new book will make your head spin, your heart bleed and your blood boil. His unique and powerful blend of memoir and ethnography brings the reader uncomfortably close to human stories that expose and excoriate the racialized cruelty of American criminal ‘justice’. He draws deeply on impressive historical and sociological scholarship to make sense of these stories, not just in the search for explanation, but also to find hope of a better way forward. For everyone and anyone who cares about justice, Miller’s book is not just crucial reading, it is a call to join the struggle against 'mass incarceration' and 'mass supervision.’”—Fergus McNeill, Professor of Sociology and Criminology and Social Work at the University of Glasgow, School of Social and Political Sciences
  • “Much has been written on mass incarceration, but no book gives a better sense than Halfway Home of what it means for the Black men experiencing it, from their plea deals, through their imprisonment, to their impossible reentry. Superbly written with critical acuity and ethical concern, this book is a beautiful ethnography grounded in a personal history and based on fifteen years of research. It is indispensable reading for anyone willing to understand the United States, its unequal society, its racial divide, and its cruel penal system.”—Didier Fassin, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study and author of Prison Worlds: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition
  • “By the time you finish Halfway Home, you will understand the ways in which the American criminal justice system brands transgressors for life. Indeed, you will feel as if some part of you has actually lived it: the endless treadmill of supervision, violation, and incarceration in visible and invisible cages. Reuben Jonathan Miller blends stories and statistics in unflinching and often unsettling ways, and refuses to allow us to look away.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America
  • “In Halfway Home, Reuben Jonathan Miller manages to succeed where many deeply informed commentators fall short of the mark: He combines persuasive data with clear prose, close engagement with his interview subjects, and stories from his own personal experience into a compelling blend that will easily keep readers absorbed. His findings are instructive without being pedantic, emotionally resonant without being manipulative. Halfway Home brings a vital new perspective to the role of punishment in our nation’s ongoing denial of equality and justice for all its citizens.” —Jabari Asim, author of We Can't Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival

On Sale
May 3, 2022
Page Count
352 pages
Back Bay Books

Reuben Jonathan Miller

About the Author

Reuben Jonathan Miller is a sociologist, criminologist and a social worker who teaches at the University of Chicago in the School of Social Service Administration where he studies and writes about race, democracy, and the social life of the city. He has been a member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton New Jersey, a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, and a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin and Dartmouth College. A native son of Chicago, he lives with his wife and children on the city’s Southside. 

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