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Publisher's Summary

A "persuasive and essential" (Matthew Desmond) work that will forever change how we look at life after prison in America through Miller's "stunning, and deeply painful reckoning with our nation's carceral system" (Heather Ann Thompson).

Each year, more than half a million Americans are released from prison and join a population of twenty million people who live with a felony record.

Reuben Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and now a sociologist studying mass incarceration, spent years alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, their friends, and their families to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. What his work revealed is a simple, if overlooked truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison. The idea that one can serve their debt and return to life as a full-fledge member of society is one of America's most nefarious myths. Recently released individuals are faced with jobs that are off-limits, apartments that cannot be occupied and votes that cannot be cast.

As The Color of Law exposed about our understanding of housing segregation, Halfway Home shows that the American justice system was not created to rehabilitate. Parole is structured to keep classes of Americans impoverished, unstable, and disenfranchised long after they've paid their debt to society.

Informed by Miller's experience as the son and brother of incarcerated men, captures the stories of the men, women, and communities fighting against a system that is designed for them to fail. It is a poignant and eye-opening call to arms that reveals how laws, rules, and regulations extract a tangible cost not only from those working to rebuild their lives, but also our democracy. As Miller searchingly explores, America must acknowledge and value the lives of its formerly imprisoned citizens.

PEN America 2022 John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction Finalist

Winner of the 2022 PROSE Award for Excellence in Social Sciences

2022 PROSE Awards Finalist

2022 PROSE Awards Category Winner for Cultural Anthropology and Sociology

An NPR Selected 2021 Books We Love

As heard on NPR’s Fresh Air

©2021 Reuben Jonathan Miller (P)2021 Little, Brown & Company

Critic Reviews

"Striking a unique balance between memoir and sociological treatise, this bracing account makes clear just how high the deck is stacked against the formerly incarcerated." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

"For incarcerated persons in the United States, release does not equal freedom. Miller’s first book is an important, harrowing ethnographic study that reads like a keenly observed memoir, which, in part, it is. His own father and brothers having been imprisoned, Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, is candidly close to his research on mass incarceration and its after effects. This is essential reading for all who care about justice in contemporary America.” (Library Journal, starred review) 

"Through vivid stories and evidence of this afterlife...Miller describes 'a new kind of prison'...in heartbreaking prose.” (National Book Review)

What listeners say about Halfway Home

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Halfway to Nowhere

Reuben Jonathan Miller’s father and two brothers have all been incarcerated before, so he has some personal experience with what the result of that is. Miller was so affected by it that he went to seminary and became a chaplain at Chicago’s Cook County Jail. He is also now a criminologist and sociologist and a professor at the University of Chicago. But, this book is not primarily about incarceration. What he wants us to understand is that the life after prison becomes another form of prison with so many restrictions and prohibitions that it becomes nearly impossible for a person who has served their time to free themselves and live a normal life again, one of the reasons why so many end up back in prison and their children often follow them. 

We’ve read about states that are trying to restore the right to vote to former felons and so most people know about that restriction. We know that they must meet certain parole requirements, theoretically meant to see that they are working and not engaging in activities that could put them back in prison. What we don’t know is how easy it is to unintentionally violate parole and how the system sometimes seems designed to make sure that some do so. There are at least 45,000 laws that regulate the life of a felon and the US has almost 20 million felons at this time. A third of all African American men have felony records. There are many laws that restrict what jobs a felon can hold and these apply for the rest of their life, not for some period of time where they can prove themselves. An employer who hires a felon, even unknowingly, can be subject to large fines if they are caught. And, of course, as soon as a potential employer finds out that a person has a record, they often refuse to hire them. Together that often makes it very difficult to get any job and impossible to get one that pays a living wage. Laws that made landlords responsible for their tenants also meant that they can refuse to rent to a felon and even can evict someone if they allow a felon to temporarily live with them. And, if you own your own home and take in a felon as a boarder, you can be subject to random checks, phone calls in the middle of the night, and inspection raids at any time. Halfway houses normally have a long waiting list, and they are temporary. The problem is that they are not halfway to anything--there is nothing out there for them to be “halfway” to.  

Miller’s book is based on interviews with 250 felons and is full not just of statistics and analysis, but also of personal stories. His research required him to be objective and keep some distance, so he was not able to do anything to directly help those he was interviewing. He often accompanied them though, traveling with them on public transportation as they tried to search for jobs or meet parole commitments. He describes walking two miles with one in the dead of winter to the workforce development agency to fill out job applications as a condition of his parole, only to arrive at a gray high-rise that was closed. If he missed it, he would be arrested and sent back to prison for breach of parole. Miller broke his research rules and gave the man a ride to another agency that was open. What about others with no one to give them a ride?

This is hot off the press, published in February 2021, and the timing is perfect. It’s quite obvious that there are flaws in our criminal justice system and Miller has given us a lot to think about.

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Poignant and gripping

Heard the author, Dr. Reuben Jonathan Miller, interviewed on NPR and found him so compelling that I immediately pre-ordered the audiobook.

Dr. Miller is an accomplished professor and has a brother who has been forced to navigate the Byzantine and arbitrary criminal justice system. This book gives both academic and personal insights into the second class citizenship that formerly incarcerated peoples are subjected to. I found the book difficult to put down and finished it in only a few days.

Halfway Home should be required reading for every American. I’ve already recommended it to my mentor and multiple friends. If you choose to only read a handful of books this year, add this one to your list.

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Very Impressed

I loved this book. It is a very pertinent piece. I would recommend this book to anyone who has been involved with the criminal justice system or has any family or friends involved with the criminal justice system in the US.

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illustrates a broken system.

Held my interest. Engaging story describing a disfunctional trilogy of race, poverty and incarceration. Another institution in need of reform. Reform far beyond the reach of our current national discourse and attention span. Narration was very good, easy listen.

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Call to Action

Enlightening, thought provoking, and educational. A call to action of the most difficult kind, to change hearts and minds.

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Phenomenal. Informative. Consistently engaging.

This book is simply amazing. Thank you for such poignant documentation. Eye and Mind opening book.

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Fantastic Book

I first read this book as I embarked on a 10 month project documenting the lives of formerly incarcerated folks for a documentary. During that 10 months of traveling all across The US, speaking to all manners of the Reentry community, and continuing to read and listen daily to new information, this book still remains one of the best written materials we came across.

It prompted my team and I to reach out to Dr. Miller and interview him for the project. His knowledge and ability to translate it to understandable terms rendered his interview by far the most important interview of the entire project. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about incarceration, racial disparities, or the American Government's relationship to it's own people (most notably those in poverty).

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Halfway home is a unique book educating us

I used Halfway Home in my college class. Students were so moved by the stories by Dr. Miller that they wrote impassioned papers and engaged in rich, thoughtful discussions.