Happy New Year! Yeah, another year down and a decade gone. For those who have been incarcerated since the 1980s and ’90s, we have officially moved into what we call the Buck Rogers dates (named after the late ’70s TV show). This term was coined to show how far off someone’s release date was back then, so good luck in this decade.
As times changes and new generations are born, languages, terminologies and definitions can also go through a metamorphosis. Now we are in a time of criminal justice reform, a time where self-identification for some people and organizations has also taken a shift.
It’s a time where using pronouns such as they/them for gender nonconforming (GNC) people has gained traction. In short, words have power; they can either build someone up or tear them down.
San Quentin News wants to put our readers on notice that we will start being conscious of not using the word inmate(s). We are not taking away this word as an option for our contributors or our journalists.
But, we are in the process of creating acceptable word options such as the incarcerated, incarcerated people, inside participants, etc. For those who have returned home, terms such as returning resident, formerly incarcerated person or system-impacted will be used.
We do understand the power of the media and word choices, where we are addressed as inmates, offenders or convicts. It’s about humanizing the incarcerated people; we are not monsters, our crimes or any other negative label.
None of these different word choices takes away having accountability for the harm that has been caused to victims/survivors or the community as a whole. This does not include the truly innocent of crimes, because we know these people exist as well.
Using words that generalize people and other negative epithets can create societal stigmas that can hinder rehabilitation or a successful reentry. This doesn’t help public safety.
I know and understand that some incarcerated people don’t care what they are called one way or the other. Everyone’s opinion is valid, but as a news agency we are aware of the debates going on regarding what incarcerated people should be called in the media, as well as how to address individuals.
Prison reform advocates and organizations and some government officials are adopting new guidelines to stay away from language such as felon, or ex-con, etc., to help remove barriers for returning residents. We who are incarcerated need to know that there are people fighting to show the rest of the world our humanity, especially those who have returned back to society. We applaud and support their efforts. In our role as journalists, we share in the efforts to also support and inform our readership in a healthy way for their human transformations—most of the times we get this right, and sometimes we can make mistakes.
But overall, we want the best for everyone, especially those who seek redemption in these dark places called prisons.
Changing what we call ourselves may take some time to have some psychological affect, but we must put forth our effort.
Well, when it comes to celebrating New Year’s Day, some people make resolutions. I guess I recommend focusing on choices and changes. One has the choice to change one’s life for the better or stay in the same place mentally, emotionally and even physically. The choice is yours.
So for you young people, who have just started doing your time or are involved in some questionable activities, take notice. When we were sentenced we were given what we called Buck Rogers dates. For your generation you have Terminator, the movie set in the 2040s. Understand this: that’s just 20 years from now.
If you think you can’t get or serve that type of time, just ask any OG, who has served two decades or more. It’s a reality.
Lastly, we as a news agency not using the word inmate(s) may seem trivial. But the alternative is supporting thing-ify-ing (objectifying) us as incarcerated people.
In self-help groups, we learn not to do the same thing. When you thing-ify (objectify) someone you take away their identity as a person who has feelings, emotions and families, where it’s easy to cause them harm. What about us? Don’t we have the ability to change or have remorse? Our are we not people?
Its just food for thought.
Once again, Happy New Year!