I think the core of the work that we do is bound up in the idea that people who are incarcerated should be treated as human beings, and that we have a responsibility to them.

Josh Hoe, #LwC2021

What brought you to this work?

As someone who was in their 40s and had never had any contact with the justice system, you know in theory that there’s a lot of problems. When you’re going through it, you experience it in a whole different way.

I think you’d have to be willfully blind to walk into a jail or prison in the United States and not see the racial disparities, the problems with healthcare, the problems with treatment, the violence, every element of every step along the way from pre-trial through pre-sentencing investigations through parole and probation to re-entry, every single thing.

What do you do now?

I’m a policy analyst at Safe and Just Michigan and I’ve worked on a lot of legislative change at the state level.

I host a podcast on criminal justice issues called Decarceration Nation. We just published our 100th episode, and have had a lot of pretty significant people on the podcast.

I’ve also been involved in activism outside of the legislative arena, a lot of on the streets activism and online, where I have a fairly big social media presence.

What are your hopes for 2021?

My biggest priority right now, and the thing I’m most concerned with, is Covid vaccinations and prisons. To me, it’s an existential threat to every single person who’s incarcerated. I also feel like it’s a litmus test for where we are as a movement because people cannot take care of their own healthcare and are literally in our hands, and if we can’t humanize or see the need to provide these human beings with basic medical care, which includes a vaccination when they’re at high risk which all of them are, then we’ve got a lot more work to do as a movement.

I think the core of the work that we do is bound up in the idea that people who are incarcerated should be treated as human beings, and that we have a responsibility to them.

What do you hope to get out of Leading with Conviction?

Part of it is the desire to just meet other people who are doing the work and other people who have a passion for the work. I’ve kind of had to teach myself a lot, but it’s always good to learn as much as you can from how other people are doing things. I also like the idea that part of it is finding out better ways to lift up other people.

If you could invite anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would you invite to a dinner party?

Jorge Luis Borges is my favorite author, and I would definitely invite him. It’s cliche but probably Abraham Lincoln. My childhood hero when I was a little kid was Hank Aaron. He was a really big figure in my childhood and a lot of my understanding of race started with reading his book, “I had a Hammer.” You know, I would also love to be a fly on the wall during a dinner between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Where were you a year ago today?

The biggest thing that’s happened to me in the last year is that a few months ago, I became a homeowner. The odds were pretty stacked against that when I got out. Even when I was dead broke, for the first three or four years what I was really trying to do was not build debt. This was kind of the culmination of that journey, of being aware of the need to have that in order to build some security and stability in my personal life.

I think for almost all of us coming back, things like a roof over your head and a steady income, and having some recognition in the community are all things that seem pretty impossible when you first come back, so they’re all pretty big milestones when you actually pass them.

What is your vision for the future?

My biggest hope is that we stop focusing on punishment as the answer to crime. I don’t think that it does anything positive. It piles trauma on trauma and usually makes things worse. I think that’s the point of all this: just trying to get to a place that doesn’t emphasize punishment and trauma as an answer to punishment and trauma. My vision is that we treat people differently, even people we’re angry at.