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Beverly Church Holds Prison Industrial Complex Workshop

Evan F. Moore | 10/21/2015, 2:18 p.m.
The Beverly Unitarian Church, located at 10244 S. Longwood Dr. in Chicago, made headlines recently after promoting the Black Lives ...
Church members of the Beverly Unitarian Church created a historical timeline showing how the criminal justice system has negatively affected African-Americans. Photo by Evan F. Moore

The Beverly Unitarian Church, located at 10244 S. Longwood Dr. in Chicago, made headlines recently after promoting the Black Lives Matter movement on its digital sign. Now the church has decided to focus on other ways to address the matter of alleged police brutality against African Americans, an issue that has divided the nation.

Recently, the Beverly Unitarian Church held a workshop entitled “Prison Industrial Complex Workshop 101,” which educated its members on the rise of for-profit prisons in America.

The Prison Industrial Complex is a term used by many advocates as a way “to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political "problems.”

During the workshop, church members put together a historical timeline showing how the criminal justice system has negatively affected African-Americans. Also, church members spoke with a correction officer about how inmates transition from the prison life to the outside world.

The Beverly Unitarian Church members listen in during a workshop on the history of the criminal justice system.

The Beverly Unitarian Church members listen in during a workshop on the history of the criminal justice system.

Beverly Unitarian Church pastor, Karen Mooney, said presenting workshops of this kind is a way for people to understand some of the nuances of the criminal justice system.

“We understand that we need to work at the systems of racialized violence in our country and in Chicago. We have to look at how to dismantle the system of mass incarceration,” Mooney says. “We have to approach this on multiple levels. I think we’re looking this as “How do we educate ourselves on what the problems are.””

Mark Townsend, a correction officer, is a member of the Unitarian Church. He says the “ex-con” stigma often steers employees away from hiring former inmates.

“A lot of these guys get locked up at such a young age; they lack the skills necessary to fit in. They believe that being locked up is some sort of a status symbol,” Townsend says. “When you get out, you have this felony on your record. Now, you can’t work certain places or own certain things.”

Townsend went on to say that he hears several stories about inmates who have left prison and ended up back after squandering opportunities on the outside.

“So many guys get sent back for something as simple as not being where they were supposed to be for two hours, “Townsend says. “When will they realize that their lives are better out of prison instead of in?”