From March 5 until April 20, Kent McKeever of Waco, Texas, wore orange prison clothes each day. He wore them to the grocery store, to the movies, to run a race, and even to jury duty.
McKeever, a youth pastor and lawyer, explains why he donned prison garb throughout Lent: “Even though it wasn’t real and I could explain myself and take it off at anytime, wearing the orange prison uniform gave me an opportunity to listen to the songs of the oppressed in ways I could never hear and experience as a white male with a middle-class, professional background.”
When McKeever got his law degree from Vanderbilt a few years ago, he made the decision to move to Waco, where the poverty rate is about 30 percent, to start a faith-based, private legal clinic advising former prisoners and others in low-income situations.
He writes on his blog, “Far from innocent, yet seeking redemption, millions of folks with criminal records wake up everyday to the seemingly insurmountable barriers blocking their path up and out, forward and beyond. They desperately desire change, seeking a new and better life, yet the systems and structures and stigmas keep them locked up and pushed aside.”
McKeever is passionate about fair sentencing policies and opportunities for former prisoners, and he felt that just talking about it wasn’t enough. His orange jumpsuit served as a visual representation of the stigma formerly incarcerated people must face daily. The looks he got from strangers, the whispers he heard behind his back, and the very blunt questions he was asked gave him a taste of what it is like to be marginalized by those around him.
Now that Lent is over, McKeever is looking forward to additional ways he can speak for the impoverished and formerly incarcerated. He will be guest writing for publications, speaking at events, working with various advocacy groups, and he’s even considering writing a book at some point in the future.