Hill Harper, the former star of CSI: NY and current star of Covert Affairs, is also an accomplished author with a new book out, Letters To An Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope And Healing For Inmates And Their Loved Ones. Harper wanted to write a guide for people in prisons of any kind. “The book isn’t just for folks who are actually in physical prisons. Many of us are in prisons that are not made of iron bars, that I hope the book will help set free,” Harper told Uinterview exclusively. “It is written for anyone who feels stuck in any way. Sometimes we feel stuck in a job, in a career, by our parents or a relationship, or our kids, or by debt, credit card debt or mortgage debt.”

Harper wrote Incarcerated Brother following the success of his previous motivational books, including the bestsellers Letters To A Young Brother and Letters To A Young Sister. He stumbled into his role as an advocate almost by accident. “A lot of the wardens and the judges would send me the book reports and eventually started sending me letters,” Harper said. “These letters moved me to a degree to find out what’s going on with our incarceration system and how can we put forth some solutions and inspiration.”


Q: Why did you want to write a book aimed at people in jail? - Pete Wilkinson - Uinterview User

I wanted to write a book aimed at the prison population because of all these letters I received, and they came from the most unexpected source. The first two books, a book called Letters To A Young Brother and my second book, Letters To A Young Sister, they were just general motivation books for teen boys and teen girls. But somewhere along the line, youth judges started assigning the books and assigning young juvenile defendants to write book reports based off the books. A lot of the wardens and the judges would send me the book reports and eventually started sending me letters. I started having a letter exchange back and forth with a lot of these folks who were incarcerated and it struck me in many ways. The first letter I got was the first letter that is presented in my book from a young man named Brian. These letters moved me to a degree to figure out what’s going on with our incarceration system and how can we put forth some solutions and inspiration.

Q: What are the most important things an inmate can do with the time in prison? –Ashok - Uinterview User

I want to be clear about the book. The book isn’t just for folks who are actually in physical prisons. Many of us are in prisons that are not made of iron bars, that I hope the book will help set free. It is written for anyone who feels stuck in any way. Sometimes we feel stuck in a job, in a career, by our parents or a relationship, or our kids, or by debt, credit card debt or mortgage debt, etc. And then there are folks that are actually in a physical, physical prison. A lot of the things that I talk about in the book, this concept of mental freedom that Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, who's a neuroscientist at Harvard, he contributes to the book and speaks about how most of us make decisions, whether we're incarcerated or not, that we don’t even know why we are making them. We just make them out of habit. We inherited fears from someone else. In the book, I talk about fears stands for False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR). We get all this False Evidence Appearing Real from sources — we don’t know why and how — and then we make these choices that can ultimately be destructive for us, but we don’t know why. So I have techniques to get out of that mindset, to establish some mental freedom. We talk about the seven C’ s — and you got to you pick up the book for all the C's — but one of them is Courage, one of them is Creativity, one of them is Collaboration. All of these are different C’s that you apply in your life to live the best life that you are meant to. There are a lot of things I talk about in the book and probably the most important is at the end of the book. It's called 'The Owner’s Manual'. I provide an owner’s manual about life for anybody who is getting out of prison or anybody just living life. Step by step instruction about things to be thinking about, things to incorporate for living what I call 'a truly wealthy and healthy life' in all areas.

Q: How can we affect prison laws in the U.S.? Has the president done enough? —Sandy Milstone - Uinterview User

There is no doubt that we have a mass incarceration crisis in this country. We lock up six to ten times more people in our country than any other industrialized nation in the world. China has four times more people in its county, and we lock up more people than them. We are five percent of the world population, we hold 25 percent of the world'€™s inmates. We're a better country than these hyper-incarceration rates suggests, so that being absolutely true, has the President done enough? Most inmates are incarcerated by their state. The President is on the federal side and there are federal prison around the country but the biggest prison systems are state by state. We have to figure out ways to get our politicians -€” local, state and federal — to stop just running around with general '€œtough on crime'€ rhetoric. Creating laws, for instance, they say it's the war on drugs that started 30 years ago, or creating laws based off a baseball rule but not necessarily good criminal justice. 'Three strikes you're out!' What if in baseball it was four strikes you're out, or five strikes you're out? This is stuff that people use to get elected and say they are tough on crime but I'd much rather elect politicians that are smart on crime. We can be much smarter with our criminal justice system. We can take nonviolent offenders and seek to give them training and rehabilitation while they are incarcerated. Am I sitting up here saying that crime is good and it's okay and folks shouldn't be punished? No. I detest drug dealing in communities. I detest drug dealers who push poison in our communities. I believe there should be penalties meted out but the penalties should match the crime, and also try to give someone the opportunity to not be a recidivist and try to break this cycle on recidivism, so we can be much smarter on crime. We can be much more focused on rehabilitation rather than just straight lock up someone and throw away the key, forget about them and let them out with a felony on their record for their rest of their life.

Q: Why are Southern states so quick to sentence a young brother to jail for the smallest things? - DonnaTrent

There are a number of states and a number of places if you just look at the data, there are so many young African American young men being sentenced. But, let me say this, and let's be very clear about this, the number one throughline about individuals who are being incarcerated at alarmingly high rates, is not race, it's poverty. We are locking up an amazingly high number and percentage of poor black young men and young women. We are locking up an amazingly high percentage of poor Latino young men and young women. And we're locking up an amazingly high percentage poor white folks. Poverty in corrupt and busted underfunded school systems is this pipeline to prison. All the data shows us that every one dollar we spend on early childhood education and how well we fund our public schools systems, will impact and we pay back seven dollars of not having to lock somebody up. In many of our states in Alabama including Louisiana, Texas -€” we can go on and on and on, and it's not just the southern states, let's be very clear, it's not just the southern states — they are locking up folks at alarming rates in ways that are unprecedented in human history. There are more African Americans in prison today than there were slaves in 1860. If that doesn't raise your eyebrows, something should.

Q: What are some things that an average person can do to help the prison population? - Uinterview

There’s a lot of people out there that I know want to get involved but don’t necessarily know how, want to do something. One way I set up I set up a facility to gift the book into prisons go to www.IncarceratedBrother.com. I’ve listed out prisons state by state with the wardens’ names. You can actually send the book into the prison. You buy from amazon.com or Barnes and Noble; send it into the prison with the warden’s name with the instruction to add it in to the prison library. They will have to do that; they will do it. So at least it’s a way to give back during the holiday season and get involved in this and know that you are making a difference.