Hill Harper is an actor best known for his roles on the television shows “CSI: NY” and “Covert Affairs.” Perhaps lesser known to fans of those programs is Harper’s second career as an author of motivational books. In his most recent book, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones, Harper reveals an ongoing conversation with a young man behind bars, the advice he has to offer him, and what he has learned from the process.
In an interview on National Public Radio, Harper explains how the idea for the book took root. Some time after publication of his first book, Letters to a Young Brother, he began receiving reviews of it from prison. “Some judges started assigning it for young men they were incarcerating to write book reports,” he says. “… And then letters started showing up through my publishing company. … And one letter stole my heart.”
Harper tells the interviewer about the subject of his new book, an unnamed young man at an undisclosed facility. “[H]e was 16 years old as he says in the letter, but it was written at about a fourth-grade level,” Harper says. “And it made me think, did society fail this young man, or did he fail us?”
Through the course of their correspondence, Harper began to share his own fears with the young inmate, even as he encouraged him to deal with his own fear of failure as his parole hearing date approached. Harper expresses his own reticence to get involved, wondering if someone who was a successful actor and author would have anything to offer someone who did not have those advantages.
Eventually, Harper realized that the differences between him and his young pen pal needn’t separate the two:
So many of us want to be very didactic and want to talk about differences. But the thing is, is that if you look somebody in the eye and you say, “I love you, I care about you,” and you’re sincere, it doesn’t matter if you grew up in two different places, two different – you had horns growing out of your head. You’re black, green. You’re white. You’re whatever. It doesn’t matter. I just left a prison five minutes ago. I was just with a group of kids here in D.C. And the one young man said to me, “Why do you care about us?” And I say, “Why wouldn’t I care about you?” He said, “But you don’t even know me.” I said, “But I can love you anyway.” It’s about sincerity. That’s why I want to encourage people who don’t think about the prison system to get more involved.
At Prison Fellowship, we recognize that the ability to “love the unlovable” comes from a God who loved us while we were still sinners – a God who calls us to reach out to those in need, including those in prison. The differences that separate us dissipate when we see those behind bars as those created and loved by God, and of eternal value in His economy.
If you would like to get “more involved” in providing hope and encouragement for prisoners and their families, visit our Get Involved page to learn more about the various ways you might be able to answer God’s call to care for those forgotten by polite society. And should someone ask, “Why do you care about us?” may our answer point back to the God who gave himself as a ransom for all.