How We Work
FICGN is fully committed to ensuring that individuals impacted by the legal system have widespread and convenient access to quality education, jobs, and housing. However, we recognize that this task cannot be achieved without the collective willingness of those inside and outside the punishment system to cultivate greater empathy. To begin, this requires an intentional shift in the language we use, the words we embrace, and the stories we tell about people who have been directly impacted.
The vocabulary typically used to describe system-impacted individuals has been largely shaped by copaganda – the language used in popular TV shows and sensationalized news reporting. By broadcasting perp walks, using excessive mugshots, and labeling individuals as suspects, offenders, predators, killers, robbers, and rapists, or associating someone with the crime they were convicted of, the media reduces individuals to their actions, stripping them of their agency and humanity. Such words function not as descriptions, but as titles that replace a person’s name or identity. At FICGN, we are committed to countering this dehumanization by adopting person-first language, as highlighted in the chart below, to restore dignity and humanity to those who the system has devalued.
|Do Say||Don’t Say|
|Formerly Incarcerated Person or System Impacted Person||Ex- or Former: Offender, Inmate Convicted Felon, or|
|Person In Recovery or Who Has Overcome Addiction||Former Drug Addict|
|Person Convicted of a Violent Felony||Murderer, Robber|
|Person Convicted of a Sex Crime||Rapist, Pedophile|
|Incarcerated Person||Inmate, Offender, Prisoner**|
|Criminal Legal System or Penal System||Criminal Justice System|
|Person on Parole or Person Under Community Supervision||Parolee|
|Person Recently Released from Prison||Returning Citizen^|
|Students Who Are Incarcerated||Prisoner Students|
Person first language is humanizing. It acknowledges one’s humanity before the consequence of their action or current domicile. At FICGN, person-first language is an integral part of our vision to build a society in which formerly incarcerated people of all races, genders, sexual orientations and offense types pursue their dreams as educated and empowered citizens with valued experiences.
Yet, these dreams have no room for growth into achievable goals if the only ones using person-first language are system-impacted people, their advocates, friends, and family members. For the full breadth of experience of formerly incarcerated people to be valued, employers, business leaders, foundations, organizers, legislators and society writ large must also adopt person-first language. However, embracing a person-first approach goes beyond mere messaging. It is a call for action.
Employers, businesses, and organizations who claim to be person-first should consider formerly incarcerated people not only for their low wage positions, but for Executive Director, COO, and CEO roles as well. Institutions of higher education should create pathways for system impacted people to easily transfer credits once their period of incarceration is complete. These shifts in operation should not be beholden to budgets, incentives, or recidivism rates but be predicated on the action of an individual person; not inmate, not ex-con, but person.
Using person-first language and taking person-first action means making a conscientious decision to distinguish between what someone’s institutional status is versus who they truly are–human beings.
At FICGN we are working to help people in our network develop both the soft and hard skills, professional development, and leadership preparation required to move to the next phase of advancement in their career and in their lives. To do so demands that we require our partners to adopt humanizing language, take humanizing action, and show themselves to be person-first. It is how we do our work and is the only way to create a world where formerly incarcerated people have the rights and opportunities necessary to make meaningful contributions to our communities and beyond.