I Did Not Know I Would Be Forever Labelled “Violent”

Published date01 May 2022
AuthorQuintin Williams
Date01 May 2022
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(2) 184 –186
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221096722
I Did Not Know I Would Be
Forever Labelled “Violent”
By Quintin Williams
“Man, you don’t even have no hair on your face!” another prisoner I vaguely remem-
ber said to me as I sat in a bus, hands and feet cuffed, headed from Cook County Jail
in Chicago to a downstate prison. I had just received 3½ years for an aggravated bat-
tery that caused bodily harm.
At the time, I did not quite understand the significance of his reference to facial
hair. However, through a decade of working in both the social and human services, I
now have a better understanding of what that man was trying to say. He was wonder-
ing: “Why is this kid on the bus going to prison?” It was a good question, and one that
advocates are increasingly asking of policymakers and law enforcement stakeholders.
The question is being asked because the research is clear on brain development in
emerging adults. In short, at 17, I was not at a stage, scientifically speaking, where I
completely understood the weight and root causes of my actions.
Back to the aggravated battery: I did not know at the time that this offense catego-
rization would deem me “violent” and later be used against me to demonstrate that I
posed a “danger” to the community. This label impacted me in a search for jobs.
Employers might be OK hiring a person who has a “non-violent” offense on his record,
and even then, the prospects aren’t that good, but not when they’ve been deemed “vio-
lent.” Having “violence” in my background impacted what I was able to do in the
world, and most consequentially, it impacted the way people, organizations and insti-
tutions viewed me. I was no longer a 17-year-old kid. I was “violent.”
My actions were inexcusable, and I would not want to ever bring physical harm to
another human being ever again. However, in hindsight, I wonder what else might
have benefitted me, other than a prison sentence and a forever designation, in formal
statute, as “violent.” I would end up back in prison after my release on a drug charge
(so much for rehabilitation), and the States Attorney used the designation as a reason
to enhance my subsequent sentence. My punishment was ineffective in deterring me
from future crime and bad decisions. So, what else did I need? What else could have
happened so that I could be held accountable for my actions, but that did not further
entrench me in cycles of poverty and stigma? What did the family of the person I
harmed want? I never saw any of that person’s relatives in the courtroom. It was just
me and my bad behavior. I was where all the “bad” people went. And the bad people
1096722CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221096722Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeWilliams

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