Ithaca MLK Celebration Covers Mass Incarceration, Diversion, Reentry Program

An annual MLK lunch in Ithaca both honored Dr. King's legacy and addressed current issues. Philip O'Driscoll tells us about the daily work leaders are doing to reduce chances of arrest, prison sentences and inmate re-integration.

Howard University Professor of Applied Theology Harold Dean Trulear, the guest speaker at the 23rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School on Monday, discussed mass incarceration, something he has both experienced and works to reform.

"The reality for me as a person in recovery and as a formerly incarcerated person is that there is a real intersection between the King dream and between what we're facing today and dealing with, with regards to our current situation with mass incarceration," said Trulear, also the national director of Healing Communities USA.

Trulear says our nation has moved away from the idea that inmates can change for the better when leaving jail or prison.

"We've moved away from it into retribution and punishment. We've also discovered in that move away that those don't work, and that rehabilitation is possible," Trulear said.

In order to see any change, Trulear says there is one specific method his organization is using to break the stigma around inmates: getting to know people on a personal level rather than knowing them for simply serving time.

"We encourage people to start with the people that they know the people's backstories to which they have access," Trulear said. "Find ways of being personal about it, and as you collect the personal stories, you’re able to build the sustainability that creates a movement."

It's a movement, he hopes, that reaches a greater audience in religious groups and those focused on ensuring successful rehabilitation, to bring the dream of King into sharper focus on the day that celebrates him and beyond.

"I believe that King would say that we would need to build the love community in our neighborhoods and in our families and in our schools and our institutions, and part of that means reducing mass incarceration, so that the people who are in the system can become part of that community," Trulear said.

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