A Short Note To John Stauffer

Also, Congratulations to Harvard For Moral Cowardice

Yours Truly at a Fair Housing Event (I’m the tall fat guy)

Harvard’s motto is “Veritas” which means “Truth.”

Earlier this week, I started to read with excitement about the acceptance of Michelle Jones (a formerly incarcerated person who spent 20 years in prison for murdering her child) into Harvard’s Ph.D. program in History.

Unfortunately, right after she was accepted, Harvard promptly reconsidered and then rescinded her acceptance.

In case you don’t understand what it is like to spend 20 years in prison, might I suggest that you watch this powerful seven-minute video from my friends at the American Friend’s Service Committee’s Michigan Criminal Justice Project (Full Disclosure, I am friends with several people in this video and it is really powerful):

As a formerly incarcerated person and active criminal justice reform advocate, I will admit to being more than a little biased here but NOBODY who has done time would disagree with me here.

People who have done serious time have been traumatized, brutalized, humiliated, and dehumanized in ways people who have never been to prison could never understand but should respect. Anyone who has not done time should take great care before concluding that any prisoner didn’t pay a high enough price for their crimes.

In addition, during my own time in prison, I met many people who committed murders and the overwhelming majority of those people were just as surprised to find out that they were capable of murder as anyone else was.

Usually, extreme crimes are contextual and happen under extreme duress (everyone assumes they are incapable of violence until * POOF * they do something violent…the dirty little secret you learn in prison is that everyone is capable of almost anything if put in the wrong situation).

Criminal Justice Reform Advocates from Nation Outside (including me) at a recent AFSC event

Michelle Jones, when she committed her crime, was definitely under immense stress.

Michelle Jones, as she served her time, was a model prisoner for 20 years (I was a model prisoner for three years and that was almost impossible)

Michelle Jones, as she served her time also had a few major accomplishments(as described by The Marshall Project):

With no internet access and a prison library that skewed toward romance novels, she led a team of inmates that pored through reams of photocopied documents from the state archives to produce the Indiana Historical Society’s best research project last year. As prisoner №970554, Jones also wrote several dance compositions and historical plays, one of which is slated to open at an Indianapolis theater in December.”

Despite all of this, and after being called one of the most qualified PhD applicants in the country by some Professor’s, Harvard felt it was wise to rescind her acceptance.

Why?

Here is how Harvard History Professor John Stauffer put it (also quoted in The Marshall Project article:

“We didn’t have some preconceived idea about crucifying Michelle,” said John Stauffer, one of the two American studies professors. “But frankly, we knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c’mon.”

So, Harvard just rescinded the PhD acceptance of a highly qualified applicant because Fox News might go on the rampage against them? Seriously?

Anyway, here is my short message to Mr. Stauffer:

  1. If societal safety is a goal, it would behoove respected institutions like Harvard to admit qualified formerly incarcerated people. Ask any expert in criminology what the prime drivers of recidivism are and they will include economic insecurity, social dislocation, and lack of opportunity.
  2. What is the alternative? What happens in a society with a permanent leper class who are untouchable and can never again prove themselves worthy. How is that a workable alternative?
  3. Imagine the worst thing you have ever done, now imagine that you were defined by that one moment every day and by every person you meet for the rest of your entire life. Now, ask yourself if you hold yourself that responsible for your own mistakes. If the answer is no, extend that same grace to other people. We are NOT defined by our worst moments.
  4. Moral courage involves speaking TRUTH (Veritas) to power not collapsing like a house of cards facing a first stiff breeze.

Luckily, Michelle Jones was recently accepted as a Ph.D. candidate at NYU.

Josh is a blogger and freelance writer who writes about television, movies, music, politics, ethics, and whatever else is of interest coming across his feed.

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Josh H

Author, Criminal Justice Reform Advocate, Co-Host of the "Decarceration Nation" Podcast, Television critic and Movie Reviewer, OnPirateSatellite.com