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The Power of Words

W. Scott Cole

Posted on August 30, 2019 00:50

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The power words have is inescapable, if you take a few minutes and think about it. A speech can inspire or inflame a crowd. Words, as language, are our chief means of communication and they play a large part in helping us form our morals, beliefs, and lifestyles. In the Criminal justice reform arena, the words used by society form part of the battleground in the struggle to help prisoners reintegrate back into society when they are released.

But wait! This is not another useless liberal rant about how negative words could hurt some poor soul’s feelings (and how many of you that identify as a liberal just got mad at me for that statement? See what I mean about the power of words?).

I am talking about how the words used to talk about parolees, and those released from prison with discharged sentences, make it harder for them to reintegrate into society. There are many of those words: offender, felon, criminal, convict, and the two words that rouse the most dislike in all of us, sex offender. To that list, I will add the word mistake.

I will not use these words, except in quotes, because of the negativity connected to them. Not because they might make someone feel bad, but because they are nothing more than labels that brand a person for the rest of their lives.

Think about the worst decision you have ever made. Would you like to spend the rest of your life being known only by the negative results of that decision? Say you lost your temper at the neighbor’s dog and kicked him. You instantly regretted it, but the deed was done. It was something you had never done before and years later had never done again. Now, how would you feel, all those years later if you were still known as an animal abuser?

Notice I used the word “decision”. Saying “everybody makes mistakes” is true, but when applied to actions, such as crimes or kicking the neighbor’s dog, it isn’t a mistake. It is a very bad decision. To call it anything else is a disservice to anyone trying to reintegrate into society, because the first step to reintegrating successfully is to recognize that it was a bad decision and to commit to making better decisions in the future. That is much easier than committing to not making any more mistakes.

The other words I mentioned all go more or less hand in hand. Felon, criminal, and convict are descriptive labels. The person who was convicted of a crime, was, at the time of conviction, all three of those things, but if he is doing his best to be a law abiding, honest member of society, how is he still those things?

The two I hate the worst, I saved for last: offender and sex offender. When a person commits a crime, he has committed an offense against society and in that moment, he is an offender. If that offense involved a sexual act that is against the law, at that moment he is a sex offender. Afterward, in and out of prison, he is not offending anyone. The labels are no longer applicable and do nothing but raise negative, hateful connotations in people’s minds that result in making it harder to reintegrate into society.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on August 30, 2019 00:50

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Source: KRQE 13

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) -- Criminal justice reform is enjoying a surge of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill this year....

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