John M. Eason is a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Justice Lab. A native of Evanston, Illinois, he has worked as an organizer focusing on housing and criminal justice issues. His research looks at imprisonment, healthcare access, and other disparities across the rural-urban divide. Before sitting on a panel for the Zócalo/California Wellness Foundation event “What Would the End of Mass Incarceration Mean for Prison Towns?” in Susanville, California, he sat down in our roving green room to tell us about his favorite place to go in Chicago, cheese curds, and how he survives the winter.
You’re from the Chicago area. What is your favorite place to go there?
This is going to sound ultra bougie, but avec. It’s a restaurant on the Near West Side. It’s kind of upscale. They have these lollipop lamb chops, which are to die for. Drinks are great, atmosphere is great. They actually have a patio, so I can eat outside with my wife. Part of us going to Chicago is going to eat at avec.
What is your best trick to surviving the winter?
Staying inside. I grew up in Chicago, went to school in the state, worked in Chicago, then went back to graduate school at the University of Chicago. I got married and started my family there. Then I started moving across the South—Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona—and now, Wisconsin. Arizona broke me. In Phoenix I got used to the 100-plus degree days. I can’t go back to going outside under 20 degrees. If you see me outside and it’s under 20, something is wrong.
What advice do you give your graduate students?
That they’re in a conversation with other academics and with the broader public. If the academics and broader public aren’t interested in the topic, it doesn’t mean you can’t study it—it just means you have to find a way to make it interesting to them. What’s the hook?
Do you have any superstitions?
I try to avoid cracks. I don’t know why. Do people still do that? I’ve noticed that about myself as I’ve gotten older. It’s the weirdest thing.
Cheese curds: For or against?
I am agnostic on cheese curds. I love cheese, but cheese does not love me. The concept of fried cheese sounds good.
What are you listening to these days?
Old jazz—I’m listening to Wayne Shorter, over and over again. And Silk Sonic is bad pop music, but they’re fools, and I love the drummer, Anderson .Paak.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
I’d have to go with my favorite rapper, Black Thought. I’d like his opinion on a lot of things.
What do you find most beautiful about the world?
That’s pretty easy: my wife and kids. I’ll just say their names (in the right order, too): Lisa, Zuri, and Major.