Public Perceptions and Re-Entry: How Society Views Criminals Who They Don’t Know Personally

Last week I took my car to the dealer on my lunch break. It was making a weird noise. After discovering that my fan belt needed to be replaced, I got nervous. I only get 30 minutes for lunch. I asked the office manager at the dealership to allow me to use the telephone to call my boss and tell him I might be out a bit longer. When I hung up the phone we got into a conversation about the work I do with men and women returning from incarceration. As I began to

explain my job role, the manager’s eyes widened. “You are not afraid?” Baffled by her question, I responded, “Afraid of what?” Without failing she replied, “Those people. Girl, I would be so scared.” I couldn’t believe what was happening. Instantly I started to wonder what she would think if she knew I was once incarcerated. Would she look at me differently? Would she be afraid of me?

Often in my community going to prison is so socially acceptable that few people look down on Returning Citizens. Here was this middle aged, African American woman referring to people in prison as if they were monsters from the nether world. For me, socializing with formerly incarcerated people has always been a norm. I have never seen them as any different from anyone else.

As we talked further she loosened up a bit and by the end of our conversation she was telling me about an uncle who she is very close to, who she would like to bring down to my office for assistance. “He is having a hard time finding a job, and he is sleeping on my grandmother’s couch. Do you think you can help him?” I was perplexed. How she could see her uncle as someone so normal, dear to her heart, a man who was down and out and needed help, yet see the remaining population of men returning from incarceration as people to be feared? To the manager’s defense she is a really awesome lady who like most of society thinks that everyone except the people they know and love who commit crimes are brutes. The truth is, sometimes good people do bad things.

Check out:

Punishment Fails. Rehabilitation Works.

Reducing Recidivism: The Challenge of Successful Prisoner Re-Entry

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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