“Once you aren’t considered human your life isn’t valued.”
This is a quote from Rahsaan Thomas in his article, “How I Convinced My Incarcerated Peers to Make Language a Priority,” where he writes about how the media uses words that dehumanize those who are incarcerated. I agree that once you are deemed a monster, it’s easier for society to disengage and lack empathy for you. But as my dad would say, “It’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”
I am not an inmate, nor a convict. I identify as an incarcerated person.
I am flesh
I am bones
I am organs
I am a beating heart
I am someone who has made a mistake…
… a human.
I am not what this world calls me: I am not ignorant, so don’t call me Nigger.
It seems to me that the name “inmate” was created in the same way that the name “Nigger” was: to assert dominance over individuals and to make them feel less than. As James Baldwin wrote in his essay, “A Talk to Teachers,”
“In order to justify the fact that men were treated as though they were animals, the white republic had to brainwash itself into believing that they were indeed, animals…”
In this essay, Baldwin discusses educating young people on the realities of what happened in history. His words still ring true today.
During the coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin Prison (a.k.a “The Q”), 29 lives were lost. Yet, the news announced and focused on their crimes: rape, murder, serial killer, and used dehumanizing words like “heinous” to further rip the lives we’ve lost from society. These labels, as Thomas notes in his article, “invite people telling our stories to obscure the complexity of crime… [yet] it’s a journalist’s duty to use unbiased language.” Not once did the news speak of the good these people did, nor mention their rehabilitation. Nothing was spoken of the families who lost a father, son, brother, uncle, or grandfather.
So very few came to our rescue.
Something that leaves me befuddled is how when you go to the parole board, or when you speak with a psychologist, you’re asked what your gender pronouns are. Yet, I don’t get a say on whether someone calls me inmate, convict, or prisoner. I stand for equality, always. Just because I’m in prison, paying off a debt, for which I’m almost done, for a mistake I made, don’t treat me like the scum of the earth. I will always have respect for you, society. So, show me a little respect too. Stop using dehumanizing words, names, and phrases to define me, to ignore me, to other me, to unsee me. I am not these things. I am…
… a loving, but strange son. I am a strict, but trusting father. I am a protective, but open brother. I am a timid, but direct writer. I am a forgiving, but cautious Christian. I am a confusing, but confident artist. I was born Quincy Quinn Paige in Denver, Colorado.
Baldwin, James. “A Talk to Teachers.” Zinn Education Project, 16 Oct. 1963,
Thomas, Rahsaan. “How I Convinced My Incarcerated Peers to Make Language a Priority.” The
Marshall Project, 13 Apr. 2021,