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People who have been previously incarcerated often face an extensive amount of negative social stigmas and prejudice upon their reentry into society. This makes it problematic to find a stable job, an apartment, or respect from their employers and other people. We tend to see these formerly incarcerated individuals through a biased lens, and soon, we define them by the crimes they have committed. Karter Kane Reed is one of those people who committed murder when he was sixteen years old, but got the chance to reenter society on parole.
Reading the article by Karter Kane Reed helped me understand his story and psychology better, and allowed me to get to know his personality before I judged him. He explains that he was a mechanic, computer programmer, public speaker, avid reader, and, shockingly, a murderer (Larson, 2014). But because I understood his story before he even mentioned the word “murderer”, I was able to assess him without Reed’s crimes overshadowing the rest of him, and it was apparent that he is just a person who made a dire mistake and ended up killing someone. I believe that he is a prudent, intelligent, person who made a bad decision.
Reading the article by Curt Brown did not drastically change my point of view on Reed. Nonetheless, it gave me some insight on how Reed’s actions have affected people close to the situation, like the Dartmouth school’s superintendent, Robinson’s mother, and people who were directly and indirectly affected by Reed’s reprehensible actions. Although it is logical that Robinson’s mother, whose son was senselessly murdered has reservations towards letting Reed out on parole, it is apparent that he is much more than that one mistake he made; he has learned from his actions and time in prison, and has shown incredible self-growth. I didn’t agree with the writer of this article, because although his and the minority of the parole board’s argument was valid and reasonable, it was overshadowed by what I learned about Karter Kane Reed in his own article.
The reasons that the minority didn’t support his parole was because they simply didn’t trust him even though he had been on good behavior, had served as a mentor to other inmates, and had shown growth in maturity (Brown, 2008). We tend to be more lenient in judging someone when we know the details of their story. Rather than being outwardly understood as person who committed a heinous crime, it’s possible to see them as an intelligent person with a kind heart who made one bad decision. Like Reed says, “[He] is far more than the things [he’s] done or been” (Larson, 2014). The order with which we come into contact with information has a significant effect on our point of view. When the public first learns about a formerly incarcerated individual on the news or in the media, they usually see the glorified headlines about the horrendous actions they’ve committed to end up in prison; however, if they got to hear each individual’s story before labelling them, they might be able to sympathize with them more, as I was able to do, simply because I heard Reed’s personal story and gained insight into his character first.
Formerly incarcerated individuals like Reed are faced with negative stigma from people, because our society naturally has trouble finding respect for these “criminals”. The argument goes that people who commit crimes are liable to punishment and blameworthy. We are hesitant to give these people a chance for redemption because we are unable to see them as anything but criminals, when, in fact, many of these previously incarcerated individuals have had troubled childhoods, like Carlos Cervantes, who had an abusive mother (Mooallem, 2015). Upon their release from prison, these individuals face great difficulty in getting oriented to a new world, finding a place to live and/or holding a job with a sufficient income. These people are reduced to their crimes, and are seen as nothing more than criminals. This is not to say that murder and criminal activity is morally defensible, but if people have shown that they are far more than their crimes, they deserve the chance to demonstrate it and contribute to society.
People like Carlos Cervantes and Karter Kane Reed are more than what society’s epithets label them as, and we cannot judge them based on their stereotypes. Humans tend to use these generalized epithets because these so-called “criminals” went to prison for their wrongdoings. After they reenter society, it’s safer for us to assume that these previously incarcerated individuals are still a threat, rather than giving them a second chance or the benefit of the doubt. We only listen to a “single story”, or rather, a couple stories on the news, and base our judgements of those people from these hyperbolic headlines.
In her TED talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asserts her claim that each person is composed up of a diverse collection of stories and backgrounds. If we reduce individuals to one of their stories and frequently use epithets like “criminal” or “offender”, we take away their humanity (Adichie, 2009). This is also why society marginalizes and places labels on formerly incarcerated individuals, as we only hear the glorified headlines about their wrongdoings in the news. We are so quick to judge, when we actually know very little about them as people and the events and experiences that transpired before their criminal activities.
After reading Reed’s piece, I knew more about him and was able to conclude that he is a reformed person who has learned from his mistakes and experiences. This is why I agree with the parole board’s controversial decision to grant Karter Kane Reed parole. The board is confident that he has shown self-improvement and gains in maturity, especially because he isn’t an extreme serial offender. When he committed the murder, Reed was just a 16 year old child, who didn’t have control of his emotions and made a rash decision. It would be unfair to reduce him to a single story when he has shown that he is reformed. It is difficult enough to re-enter society after spending a decade and a half confined and isolated in prison. Like Carlos Cervantes and Roby So, Reed most likely will experience difficulty in returning to society and finding a job and getting used to a free life (Mooallem, 2015). Society relying on stereotypes to define these people makes it harder for them to find jobs and move on with their lives after their release.
Good people sometimes make mistakes or bad decisions. People like Reed who have proven themselves worthy of a second chance after serving time in prison deserve to have the opportunity to be a productive member of society. We must stop seeing people who have committed crimes as criminals and defining them by a single piece of their whole story.When we know people’s experiences as a whole story before we hear about their wrongdoings, we are able to sympathize more with them. So rather than just defining formerly incarcerated individuals by their crimes, we should take the time to listen to the other side of the story and stray away from generalizing and using hurtful epithets. People, like Reed, are more than the things they’ve done or been.
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