Hill Harper strikes one immediately as a refined and elegant man. He approaches us warmly in the green room waiting area of the Today show on a recent Tuesday to discuss his new book, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones, granting me and my video producer a generous helping of time between appearances.
Harper could have used these precious minutes to prep for his television spot, or just rest between back-to-back promotions for his book, and his television show, USA Network’s Covert Affairs. Instead, he cheerfully accommodated our request, as we shot sandwiched between other guests (and their guests), all the while easily outlining the purpose of his latest literary opus.
This should come as no surprise. The spirit of giving evident during our chat is the ethos with which Hill Harper both writes his books and conducts his life. His new work, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother, is the final installment in a series of inspirational texts that seek to uplift his readers and lead our community to universal betterment.
Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Harper’s final book
Letters to an Incarcerated Brother — his fifth and final book, Harper revealed during our interview — takes on the issue of black male incarceration and how it is devastating the black community.
“We lock up more people in this country than any other country in the world, including China, which has four times our population,” Harper told theGrio while waiting to appear on Today. “I’m not talking about percentage. I’m talking about actual numbers of people that we incarcerate. It’s deplorable. We have to do better, we will, and hopefully, anyone who reads this book will relate to it.”
Legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s seminal work, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, goes into the means by which millions of African-American men have been imprisoned and stripped of legal rights, largely for petty, non-violent offenses. But Harper’s book offers a pathway towards self-healing and community support in the midst of this crisis.
Rather than focusing on dire statistics, Harper uses Letters to probe the brightest minds of our day who add their wisdom to his supportive conversations with a proverbial incarcerated brother. Ultimately, these messages offer hope. Because Letters seeks to be a balm for not only the incarcerated, but also for their families, and the society impacted by their resultant suffering, the themes of this book are meant for everyone.
An invitation to empower the incarcerated
The actor and activist believes people will better empathize with the plight of the incarcerated through his book. “Also, hopefully you’ll decide that our country can do better.” How can we get involved and help those impacted?
“Certainly finding a way to gift it to people who are incarcerated — if you don’t know somebody — is important,” Harper offered. “They can go to the web site that I created called incarceratedbrother.com where you go search by state, find the name of the warden and the prison that’s in your area, and you can actually send a book to the warden, or send multiple books to the warden, and the warden will distribute the books within the prison.”
Ultimately, Harper’s books are all part of a plan. His organization, Manifest Your Destiny, implements the helpful themes of his books in the real world by directly uplifting young people.
“What we want to do with Manifest Your Destiny is we want to target the pipeline,” Harper told theGrio. For example, “We work with eighth graders transitioning into ninth, so hopefully you never make it to prison.”
By preventing their incarceration, Manifest Your Destiny aims to dissolve the root issues behind this pattern.
“All the data shows that if you can actually get someone through high school, particularly in challenged, urban environments and problematic public schools — if you can get them through high school, the chance of them being incarcerated drops precipitously,” he continued. “If you can get them to college, it drops even more.”
Inspiring those in literal or figurative prisons
As a compliment, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother supports those currently in the system, and just coming out, to offer that jolt of empowerment to a group that is often not only disenfranchised, but also marginalized.
“I’m attempting to deal with this problem from both sides,” Harper affirmed. “If you have already been in the system, or even if you’re someone who’s in their own prison that’s not made of iron bars, if you’re stuck in a job, if fears are stopping you,” the actor believes Letters to an Incarcerated Brother can also help such readers free their minds.
But first and foremost, his goal is helping black men in prison, or those working to prevent recidivism, find a way to rebuild their lives.
“To me, it’s the issue of our time,” Harper said.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb.