Story used stigmatizing language

Regarding the story published Feb. 3 about Norman Kehling and the publication “Helping Incarcerated Individuals Transition,” commendations are due to Mr. Kehling, a formerly incarcerated man working to assist others emerging from the corrections system. His compassion and vulnerability are gently portrayed by author Fran Gonzalez, who accurately describes the many, daunting hurdles formerly incarcerated people must overcome as they reenter society.

These qualities make it all the more disappointing that the word “inmate” is used throughout this article, particularly in the headline. Terms like these, that are designed to dehumanize and degrade, undermine the purpose of a corrections system — to rehabilitate and to reduce future offenses. When formerly incarcerated people are degraded and stigmatized, we only feed the cycle of violence. Human-first language, such as “formerly incarcerated person,” is an essential aspect of the rehabilitation process.

Maine has the highest rate of incarceration in New England, which makes it all the more necessary that we humanize these individuals. The state correction commissioner, Randall Liberty, mentioned in this article, has long emphasized compassionate language in his department, with positive results among both corrections officers and incarcerated people. As he says, “Stigma is real and it is insidious. Using person-first language is one way to fight against stigma.”

I strongly encourage The Republican Journal and Village Soup publications to follow Commissioner Liberty’s example and end the use of dehumanizing terms like “inmate” or “prisoner” when interviewing or discussing formerly or currently incarcerated people.

Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, a longtime advocate for corrections officers in Maine, is the sponsor of a bill to replace stigmatizing language in our legislative history with terms that recognize the humanity of formerly or currently incarcerated people. As he says, “If we continue to label them in these
ways, it goes against that ultimate aim of our system.”

William Armstrong

Palermo

The Maine tradition

Mainers have a strong tradition of taking care of each other during difficult times. This is apparent just from thumbing through the pages of The Republican Journal. In the past two weeks there were articles regarding the rebuilding of the Community Market in Unity, Norman Kehling starting a newsletter to help former inmates reenter society, Carrie Hanagriff’s jigsaw puzzle project to help grieving Mount View students, the Belfast Library collecting food donations and our strong commitment to volunteerism at fires, food pantries, faith ministries, etc. I’d like to point out another group of neighbors who need our help.

The tribes in Maine are seeking sovereignty over their land, culture, and way of life. LD 1626 seeks to implement the 22 consensus recommendations from the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indians Settlement Act released in January 2020. These changes would grant the same status to the Maine tribes as the other 570 federally recognized tribes — nothing more, nothing less. This allows them to determine the future of their communities according to their traditions, which most certainly includes their heritage of good environmental stewardship.

You can join in helping these neighbors by contacting Gov. Mills at 287-3531 or maine.gov/governor/mills/contact and/or your state legislators (legislature.maine.gov) to let them know you support LD 1626. This is the time to help our neighbors. When we help others, we all benefit.

Michael Schaab

Monroe