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Narratives & Thoughts
Labels are attached to everything for better or worse. They provide information to help us make informed choices and to identify specific brands. With labels we can differentiate one thing from the other by price, size, features, manufacturer, and a host of other "labeled" references. Labels can prevent us from making both minor and major mistakes, assist us, warn us, and even save lives through the information they provide-if we ever care to pass the designer graphic. Labels also attach to people. Fairly or unfairly-mostly the latter-labels define people by ethnicity, race, gender, religious belief, political affiliation, professional or social associations, the size of their paycheck, where they live, what they do, where the go. Unlike with products, labels attached to people come stereo types, preconceptions and prejudices. Labels are used on people by people to include, and to often exclude. They are used to divide, distinguish, ridicule and separate. Labels can also irritate. Sometimes they are used as a hammer to mock and belittle people the lablemakers tag as generic, discount or inferior. Those who do shall be careful, they are not the only labelmakers around. Great care should be taken before using labels to define ourselves or anyone else. Political opponents use labels like artillery, launching terms like liberal, conservative, taxer, tax-cuter, pro-this or pro-that, anti-this or anti-that, like the mere labeling makes people of different ilks either good or evil. Such labeling permeates the social fabric, exacerbating stereotypes and prejudices, and entrenching polemic attitudes. Labels seem to have deepened what divides us and erased those things that unite us . A case in point is the Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Streeters, who both have legitimate concerns about legitimate issues affecting Americans of all labels. But the truths, as it usually seems to be, is lost in the screeching volume of labeling. It is wrong to label Tea Partiers as racist, greed, mean-spirited or insensitive, just as it is wrong to label Occupiers as the welfare-class, a fringe element or a counterculture. The labels attached to the movements are both inaccurate and unfair, another indicator of the disease-a divisiveness that continues to sabotage effective solutions. The same can be said of labeling people based strictly on a religious test, their income, what schools they attend, how they dress, or who their friends are. Labels contain more information that just the name brand, they are stamped with specific information, the fine print, that reveals more about the product, or person, than the designer logo. Prisoners are certainly labeled, many of them deserved, none of them good. Like labels attached to other people, it is also wrong to generically label all prisoners, but that's not how the label-making machinery works. Defined invariably by the conviction, prisoner labels are viewed as the brand for all of society's ills. Labels usually contain information beyond the eye-catching design, and further examination can yield important details about the contents. So many new laws have been made, or sentencing for existing laws changed during the past 25 years, that the nation's prison population has grown 400 percent during that time, the result of sentencing changes that eliminated parole and created what criminologists call a "stacking effect." Today, the state has 4,300 lifers at a cost of nearly $100 million per year. As the stacking continues, a more thorough label reading shows that approximately half of the lifers are first offenders. Readmore and you will learn that people convicted of murder return to prison at a rate of less than 10 percent, and less than 2 percent for another violent crime-far below the state and national average recidivism rate of just over 40 percent. To fully understand, the entire label must be read, not just the eye catching graphic. Prior to 1973, life in Louisiana meant 10 years and 6 months for most sentenced. The reason was reason: an unemotional, evidenced-based, practical understanding of the individual and individual circumstances. Contrary to conventional wisdom most lifers are not career violent criminals. There is a difference between a violent criminal and being convicted of a violent crime. Considering the cost, wouldn't it be prudent to read the entire label?