Just a decade ago, Jeff Smith had one of the brightest futures of any Democratic politician in Missouri, reported the Washington Post. He was a progressive state senator with a budding national profile, whose narrow defeat in an election for Congress was chronicled in a well-received 2006 documentary, “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?”
His political career a faded memory and a year in prison for campaign fraud behind him, Smith has penned a book, “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison,” and launched a tour to get his voice heard in a larger debate about a prison industrial complex that has run amok.
The American criminal justice system has been built on a business model that profits from recidivism and is operated in a brutal way that keeps inmates from rehabilitating themselves into useful, law-abiding citizens.
Smith is not the only person making this point. It’s a conversation that has moved beyond think tanks and into the larger culture, fueled by the popularity of the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” which similarly tells the story of an “unlikely” person (read: white, upper-middle class) whose eyes were opened by a (relatively brief) stint behind bars — and if there’s some discomfort about these protagonists being the heroes, well, at least they’re drawing some attention to an overlooked world in crisis.
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