Standing or Stamped?
Whose Label Do You Wear?
Whose Label Do You Wear?
You entered with a name, with an identity. Then, step by step, everything in the system seems determined and designed to strip it all away. Your dignity, your sense of self, your value and values, your passions, your masculinity or femininity. You're herded into pens, called out like cattle, stripped, hosed down, given uniform clothing, given a number. You're given an identification with one word stamped on it in big, bold letters, a word that haunts you from that day on OFFENDER. And, for far too many of us, we lose our soul in the process to the uniform code of condemnation and dehumanization.
It is not all that surprising that a society, ignorant of the realities of the courts and the justice system, would place these labels on men and woman, seeing them as menaces and threats needing to be locked away; the world is a harsh, judgmental, unforgiving place, more ready to hide those who are caught breaking their laws away out of sight, defining them by a negative moment or time in their past, than to face up to the failings and weaknesses in our culture and in themselves that those so easily and quickly labeled reflect. What is most sad, however, is that we, those who know best the overreaches and injustices of the system, who understand most intimately the depths to which the best of men can fall in his weakest moments, the failings any woman can reveal in her frailest times, and who know the pain of being labeled, ostracized, filed away, and determined irredeemable and valueless because of an act or time of foolish lostness, we who understand this most deeply, take on that label to ourselves, allow their stamp, their brand to burn into our souls, searing the very core of our identities, then reflect these vilifications that pain us most deeply onto one another!
This is sanity?
Don't think you are guilty of this? Ask yourself some questions. When you refer to the man or woman who lives in and shares the same close spaces you inhabit, do call that person your roommate or your "cellie"? If the latter, you are giving way to their label. Do you do all you can to live a healthy, disciplined, ordered life, as you would to function and live well outside the prison walls, or have you settled for the lazy, pre-programmed, easy floating along of institutionalization? If the latter, you are giving way to their label. How much "prison lingo" have you allowed to slip into your vocabulary? When you see men or women wearing the uniform of an inmate, do you see a person, as much human and as much invested with preciousness and value as every other person in the world regardless of race, color, or creed, or do you just see another prisoner, another inmate, another offender? When you see prison staff or officers of the law, do you see a man or a woman with great value and dignity simply doing his or her job, or do you just see a stuffed uniform of the "po-lice" and reflect onto them everything you hate about the system? Oh, here's a tough one: When you think of the various crimes or convictions of those of us in the prison system, do you rank some men and women as worthless scum and irredeemable1 and others almost respectable based on the act or conviction that place them behind bars?
How you doing so far? Can you see yet how deeply you have accepted the scarlet letter "0" that the rest of the world places on us?
One more question on this test: When you look in the mirror, do you see just another criminal, branded by his or her past, destined for failure and unworthy, worthless, void of anything to contribute to the world? Or can you see a man or a woman, who has a past (but every person on the face of the planet does), but who can, who has learned, has grown, has matured, and who has immense value, who has much to offer in a world badly in need of good, and yes, broken but redeemed men and women to reach out to the broken, hurting, and lost with the hope that only the redeemed ones know?
The problem is that for too many of us have never learned who we are to begin with, and so have bought into a lie. We've spent our lives building façades and shaping masks, or more precisely stated, allowing those around us-friends (so-called), gangs, social norms, cultural expectations, jobs, family, and the list could go on - shape those false fronts for us, all in an effort to hide our own lack of identity and our own insecurities. So we look for identity and fulfillment in temporal externals: sex, drugs, money, cars, excitement, and acceptance by the crowd, success-things, stuff, and feelings. We have no clue how to stand in our own identity because we haven't the first clue as to what or who that person is. So what is another label, another stamp? And another? And another? And another? It's easier, far simpler to just float along accepting them, no matter how degrading or dehumanizing the label, than to stand against the tide of masks and disguises being fitted onto us.
It's time we stop accepting brands, stop blindly putting out our hands to accept another club stamp. It's time we learn who we are, who we were born, were created to be. It's time we stop being another face in the crowd, another statistic, another number, another faceless follower of the flow.
It's time we allow that something in our core, in the very heart of our being, to be stirred up, to be aroused with a fire of passion that cries out, "ENOUGH!" It is not the system to blame, my friend, for a system is a blind, soulless machine; it is you, how you respond to the gears and assembly lines you are being dropped into! It is time for you to wake up and learn to stand in your identity, to learn who you truly are as a man or a woman and to live in it!
You are not a valueless, numbered animal. You are not the thing you were convicted of in the courts. You are not the worthless thing the correctional officer, the social worker, the P.R.C. Board, or society treats you as. You are not "OFFENDER ________". Oh, and neither are you that thing or name placed on you by the other insecure mask wearers in the gang or social circle that has defined you for so long.
You are a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a nephew, a niece, an uncle or aunt. You are an artist, a musician, a mechanic, a composer of songs, a writer of poetry, a storyteller, a cook, a designer, a builder, a speaker, a thinker. You are a teacher, a mentor, an encourager, a helper, a leader, a friend. You are some or even many of these things and more. You are, most of all, a man or a woman made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. Stop floating along accepting stamps. Do the hard thing! Learn who you are and then learn to stand in that identity.
Friend, it is not until we, men and women behind these walls, begin to do this, to do the thing that most in the "free world" have not learned to do (but how free is a society under bondage of masks, behind prison walls of false fronts, in reality?), that we will begin to finally break off the chains, both of how society labels us based on our pasts, and of what our social groups place on us as expectations - expectations which have in many cases led to the chains of prison labels. It is not until we begin to view one another with this value and identity that we have any moral right to decry the hatred, fear, and condemnation from others keeping so many of us behind bars and walls of iron and stone. It is only when we learn to walk and stand as men and women of identity of a conviction of who we are created to be, it is only then we will know any real sense of freedom from bondage in the world.
And on that day it will no longer matter if we live behind prison walls in a cell, or in a palace with every amenity and luxury in the world. It will no longer matter if we are called "OFFENDER" by the world or paid the homage of a king. It will no longer matter if all the world rejects or accepts us in who we truly are as men and women. On that day we will be able to wash away the stamp on our hands, rid ourselves of the scarlet letter painted over our hearts, and cleanse away the brand that has too long remained burnt onto the fabric of the core of our souls. On that day we will have learned, not only in spite of all we have faced and been through, but because of it, to finally stand no matter what the obstacles ahead.
It is then and only then we will understand the liberty of living as a woman or a man, to stand free and clean of stamps, brands, and labels. When will that day come for you?