The other day I turned on the television news and heard an official from the North Carolina prison system talking about the staff and “offenders.”
Admittedly, I am an old man living in a small, out-of-the-way town. But this was a new one on me. Over the years we have had convicts, jailbirds, and prisoners, who finally evolved into “inmates.” Even that attempt to dignify their status misses the mark, as an “inmate” is by definition merely a resident of any place, as I am an inmate of Warrenton.
Offenders is a vague, ambiguous term that doesn’t accurately describe this category of persons. Many people offend me. Some of them even hold elected office, but they are not yet in jail.
In the 1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, we used to declare in the General Confession that we were “miserable offenders.” The reformers who produced the new prayer book in 1979 got rid of that phrase, as it might have a negative effect on our self-esteem.
Therefore, all those Episcopalians who are in jail may take offense at being called “offenders.” Heaven forbid that we should offend those who have offended against us.
I predict that “offenders” will evolve into “clients,” and then eventually into “customers.”
However, what is needed is a new term, clear and specific about the group it describes—something with a little pizzazz. I propose that whenever men and women end their involuntary vacations in our hostels for the hostile, they should be able to proclaim to the world, “I was among The Incarceratti.”
E.T. MALONE, JR.