Inherent to the Christian faith is the idea of salvation and mercy – that man, by nature, is sinful. But through acknowledgment and repentance of our wrongdoing, God forgives us, gives us a new life, and continues to refine and improve us, even when we make mistakes on a daily basis. We can make the worst mistake in the world, but God gives us another chance.
I live and work as a pastor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a city with a large Black community. As I have ministered and worked in the city over the years, I have met and worked alongside people who have made their share of mistakes – some of them really bad – but who have paid the price through our justice system and served their time. But when these Americans left incarceration, too often, they had nowhere to go. Employers wouldn’t hire them. Their families didn’t necessarily open their homes to them. And they were set on a path with few options – with their lives too often leading back to crime.
It was clear to me that politicians have failed these people. They locked them up for disproportionately long periods of time, with no plan for how to help them when their sentences ended. Historically, this issue goes back to the mass incarceration policies of the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, current Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden wrote one of the most devastating pieces of legislation in recent history – the 1994 Crime Bill – that put hundreds of thousands of young black men in prison to serve lengthy sentences for non-violent offenses.
A few years ago, through our church – Greater Praise Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee – I worked with Senator Ron Johnson to create The Joseph Project – a training program that gives former inmates life and work skills and then connects them to employers. It seems pretty simple, right?
We’ve had great success in helping those who are coming out of prison as they move back into society and become a part of their communities in a positive and productive way. I’m proud of that work and grateful to God for the partners he’s provided. And believe it or not, I’m thrilled that President Donald Trump and his administration worked so hard to pass the First Step Act – a move to make our communities safer by helping former inmates successfully rejoin society. It’s a smart, practical move on the president’s part.
As a community and a nation, we need to take a hard look at whether or not Joe Biden can really change the system when he IS the system. Traditionally, political experts think of the Black community as a source of Democrat voters. But when Joe Biden is the nominee, and he’s been behind virtually every policy that has hurt Black Americans for the half a century he’s held elected office, he’s not our best choice.
I’m proud to stand with President Trump, who is working to undo the injustice of mass incarceration for non-violent crimes within our criminal justice system caused by Joe Biden. And I look forward to continuing to work with the Trump administration to further the policies that help all Americans, even after they’ve made mistakes and served their time. Just as God shows me mercy on a daily basis, we as a society must do a better job of bringing former inmates – American citizens – back into society in a way that helps them realize their God-given potential for success.
Elder Jerome Smith Sr. is the Pastor of the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee and founder of The Joseph Project