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Changing the Narrative

This post was contributed by Bill Van Lopik, ESTHER Community Organizer

Bill Van Lopik Teaching Social Justice

I am a social justice advocate. I fight against systemic policies, narratives and attitudes that hurt people and silence their voices. Recently I found myself confronting one such attitude that surfaced in my own house. Last week when I was talking with my 7-year old granddaughter she stated, “I was told that bad things happen to bad people.” There was a time in my life when I might have tacitly agreed with this sort of moral commentary and quickly brushed it off. However, this time the narrative which I know is very pervasive in our society provoked a much more critical response. I was not upset at her, but rather, at the confusion that this type of comment plays in her head. You see, her father is incarcerated, and I am sure in the back of her head she was trying to decide how she should feel about him. Is he really a bad person because he did a bad thing? Is he a bad a person even though he calls her several times a week to talk to her and tells her he loves her and can’t wait to see her?

My wife and I realized that this was a teachable moment, the result of which could impact how she viewed her dad going into the future. We explained how sometimes bad things happen to good people and even good things can happen to bad people. However, the bottom line that we wanted to get across to her was the difference between a “bad” person and “bad behavior.” We wanted her to see the difference between the bad choices a person might make and simply labelling someone a bad person. She intently listened to us, and I think she was able to grasp the difference after our little chat.

The Recently Incarcerated Have an Uphill Battle

Our little conversation reinforced my previous perception that it is an uphill battle for incarcerated individuals to break free from the connection between bad behavior and being a bad person. Labelling the incarcerated as bad people is so prevalent in our society and judicial system.  Bad behavior can be forgiven, redeemed, restored and changed. Bad people are seen as unforgivable, unchangeable, un-restorable and not worthy of redemption. Those of us who have loved ones in prison clearly understand the difference. Two organizations that are trying to change the dominant narrative are: WISDOM’s Supporting Incarcerated People (SIP) and the ESTHER Prison Reform Task Force

I support these organizations, and hope that you will do so, too.

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