By Any Other Name.

Author:W., Travis
Position:INSIDE THE WALLS - On the rehabilitation of prisoners - Column
 
FREE EXCERPT

I used to think simply knowing a lot of statics and complaining about the prison industrial complex made me an activist. Then one day a correctional officer challenged my rhetoric. He asked, "Do you have any better options?" He acknowledged that the current system was more warehousing than rehabilitation but pointed out that currently there isn't anything better. Nearly eight years later I still think about his question and how the penitentiary, a Quaker invention, can evolve into an institution for improvement.

One of the most important things is how we communicate. The Department of Corrections refers to all of its inmates as "offenders." Even after one has been paroled or discharged, they are forever an "exoffender." This reminder is evident when they attempt to visit or contact their friends and family still on the inside. The problem is that it's not only an excessively used slur (policy and memorandum use the word to the nth degree even when it's abundantly clear who's being referenced), it used to be the sole designation for sex offenders. When I first came into the system over fifteen years ago, if anyone was talking about an offender, chances are they were talking about someone who had molested a child. Now it's the blanket term, which amounts to daily negative reinforcement.

Of all the practices that dehumanize prisoners, calling them "one who offends" is by far the worst. It sets the tone and is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The distastefulness of the term is quickly revealed when applied peripherally. Staff does not like to be referred as "offender counselors," for example. The inmate council recently conducted a survey to ascertain what the prison population would prefer to be called. Note that this was purely for our satisfaction and will have no bearing on actual DOC policy. One of the most popular choices was "resident." Many even chose "prisoner" rather than...

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