Lucas Day is still learning.
A graduate from the Michigan State school of journalism and now a student pursuing a master’s degree in social work degree from MSU, Lucas has learned more through his interviews with the people he’s writing about than anywhere else.
“I feel like my perspective is always shifting,” Lucas said. “The variety of people I’ve talked to through journalism have forced me to realize there’s a lot I don’t know, and if I make a habit out of making assumptions, I’ll be wrong a lot.”
Now, Lucas is ready to learn about criminal justice reform and the people who have been impacted by Michigan’s criminal justice system as Safe & Just Michigan’s new intern. He looks forward to a career that blends his journalistic talents, such as interviewing people and bringing their stories to public attention, with social work’s mission of improving people’s wellbeing and to meet the basic human needs of all people.
It’s an interest that reaches back to the very first news story he worked on. Lucas spoke with four men who worked in a recovery center for feature stories about their battles with addiction. Some of the men had brushes with the law. Some had fallen out with their families. They had all made mistakes. They were all good people.
“I didn’t expect the interviews to go like that,” Lucas said. “Really, I didn’t even know I had a bias against people struggling with substances, but after I was done talking to those guys it was clear I did. That made me rethink a lot of things.”
Lucas became interested in the criminal justice system through school. He remembers reading The Other Wes Moore and The New Jim Crow in classes, which pushed him to reconsider how he viewed people who were incarcerated. He thought about the resources that were available to him and why he had access to those things.
“I grew up in a tourist town in Northern Michigan,” he said. “In the summer we could work in the restaurants and make a lot of money. Then in the winter, over break, I could valet at the local ski resort and make a lot of money. My parents were teachers, I grew up middle class. But being middle class in Northern Michigan is a lot different than being middle class other places.”
Lucas wonders where he’d be if he were born in a different situation. He also wonders where some of the people he’s met who have been incarcerated would be if they grew up with the same resources he had.
Recently, Lucas worked as a parenting supervisor. He tagged along on visits with parents who weren’t allowed to be alone with their children. He also did some scheduling for people on parole who needed counseling or therapy through the same agency.
“I’ve worked a million customer service jobs,” Lucas said. “The people on parole I interacted with this summer were way more understanding and patient than the people I interacted with in the customer service roles.”
While working with the individuals on parole was encouraging, Lucas detested managing payments. He knew many of the people he worked with already had greatly reduced job opportunities and the burden of paying hundreds of dollars monthly just to meet probation terms must be crippling.
“The whole thing doesn’t make sense to me,” Lucas said. “Most of the people I worked with didn’t have many resources to begin with. Then they make a mistake, and they have access to even less. Then, just to get back to ordinary life, they have to make payments that I myself would be unable to make. That isn’t rehabilitation.”
Lucas will be joining the Safe & Just team this year as a social work intern. He is hoping to amplify the voices of people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. He is optimistic that helping the public understand what can lead people to becoming incarcerated will reduce stigma and bring policy changes.
“I think the better we understand each other, the better off things will be,” Lucas said. “Most people are well-intentioned. There’s too much fear about people who made a mistake and were buried by the system.”