Words Matter by Patrick Rodriguez

“Put your hands behind your back!” “Stop right there, inmate!” “Everyone on the ground!” “You have 3 minutes to eat. Hurry up! Let’s go!” “Wake up. It’s time to go to court!” “I have Mr. Rodriguez here for the crimes listed. Mr. Rodriguez, were you using those drugs? Mr. Rodriguez, were you selling those drugs?” “Why is he in red? That’s a guilty man!” “Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do this. It all just happened so fast. Please help me!” “Danielle, I need you. I love you! I can’t do this without you!” “I’m sorry I missed your graduation!” “I’m sorry I missed your wedding!” “I’m trying to come home; I promise I’m doing everything I can.”

When we aren’t cognizant of the language we use, we can cause someone to relive everything they are working to overcome.

Throughout our (system impacted people) reentry journey, we are burdened with hurdles due to past choices. Not only do we have to serve time in prison, but we also have to get out and then serve time under the guise of the public’s eye. Examples such as getting an apartment, finding a job that offers second chances, getting accepted to university-level schooling are just some of the points of discrimination that we face. By us (society) continuing to use words such as inmate, offender, criminal, convict, addict and felon, we provoke regressive thoughts and inflate a narrative that needs to be corrected. We are participating in inhibiting the advancement of those who the prison system has impacted as they work to win back their rights. Lastly, we are choosing to partake in the oppression that exists within this country.

As we work to create a more just society, I would like you to join me in using language that acts as an alternative and is more advocacy-focused.

Here are some alternate words/phrases that can be used:
Justice involvedsystem impactedincarcerated personformerly incarcerated, and person with a history of substance abuse.

We should be able to apply for any apartment complex, housing loan, job or university without facing biases based on our choices.

I dream of a world where everyone is able to receive a second chance. I ask you to not just dream with me but take action by reframing your language choices.

No one is perfect, and this is important to note as this is a learning process, and there will be no such indictment when mistakes are made. All we ask is that you try.

In Solidarity,
Patrick Rodriguez