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Straight Talk The general Ex-Offender discussion forum. If you have done time, this forum is for you.

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  #1  
Old 05-01-2012, 02:22 AM
Jacob E Jacob E is offline
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Default Questions for Ex-Inmates: Prisoner Numbers

Who are we if we are just referred to as a number. What becomes our identity when it forced upon us. I am looking to see how prisoners have been affected by a system that refers to them as just another number. I invite you to answer a few simple questions to help raise awareness about this issue.

I am a college student doing an art project on identity. And I wanted to look at the prison population because there are often many misconception people possess about it. And with your help I wish to remove some of those misconceptions.

I am asking a few questions that shouldn’t take more than 15 min to answer. Please feel free to use as much information as you can, the more the better.
Questions will pertain to the number given to you in prison. It is an identity that is placed upon an inmate without their choosing. I am looking at how much one relates to their given identity and how much the number has shaped the inmate.

1) How does or does not your number identify you as a person?

2) How often were you referred to by number; how did you respond?

3) What do other inmates call you by; name, number, nickname, etc?

4) What do the guards call you by; name, number, nickname, etc?

5) What was it like after prison to no longer have a number?

6) Do think the system would improve if inmates were referred to by name? How or how not?

P.S. If you feel comfortable please provide your prison number.
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Old 05-01-2012, 02:28 AM
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Old 05-01-2012, 11:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacob E View Post
Who are we if we are just referred to as a number. What becomes our identity when it forced upon us. I am looking to see how prisoners have been affected by a system that refers to them as just another number. I invite you to answer a few simple questions to help raise awareness about this issue.

I am a college student doing an art project on identity. And I wanted to look at the prison population because there are often many misconception people possess about it. And with your help I wish to remove some of those misconceptions.

I am asking a few questions that shouldn’t take more than 15 min to answer. Please feel free to use as much information as you can, the more the better.
Questions will pertain to the number given to you in prison. It is an identity that is placed upon an inmate without their choosing. I am looking at how much one relates to their given identity and how much the number has shaped the inmate.

1) How does or does not your number identify you as a person?

2) How often were you referred to by number; how did you respond?

3) What do other inmates call you by; name, number, nickname, etc?

4) What do the guards call you by; name, number, nickname, etc?

5) What was it like after prison to no longer have a number?

6) Do think the system would improve if inmates were referred to by name? How or how not?

P.S. If you feel comfortable please provide your prison number.
Jacob - first, you should read the definitive book Asylums: A Study of Mental Patients and Other Inmates by Erving Goffman. Although it was written in 1961, and focused on mental institutions, it is still required reading in any graduate level program dealing with the issue of identity restructuring within a correctional (or more specifically and accurately, "institutional") context. Absolutely fascinating. There is a certain "depersonalization" required when moving into any kind of institution, whether it's prison, the military or even a monastic setting (where I also spent eight years). They changed my name too...

This "depersonalization" is necessary because within an institutional context, it is the identity of the organization that takes precedence over the identity of the individual. This is necessary (from a sociological standpoint) for the institution to maintain clear channels of control. There are other models where this is not the case, just as there are prison systems that don't use numbers... but it's rarely found within the United States outside of a very few therapeutic prison settings.

You might also check out International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology and do a search for "Inmate Identification" or "Effect of Prison Numbers" for some interesting abstracts. Prisons that use the "therapeutic community" model rarely use prison numbers outside the context of identification processes.

1. The prison number really isn't of significant consequence. In Oregon, it's called a SID (or State Identification Number) and is issued to everyone employed in any public capacity within the State, as well as inmates. Our culture is pretty number oriented as far as identity is concerned. Try and get a loan within a social security number or a decent FICO score. The "prison number" thing is a bit over dramatized. It's come a long way since the Nazi's branded Jews (and others) with ID numbers in the concentration camps of the 1940's.

That's really the image you have, and it was entirely the intent of the Nazi's to completely depersonalize their victims, to make eliminating them easier and less traumatic for the staff. It's not really accurate in terms of contemporary American prison life. In psychological terms, that might be called an "associative image".

2. In prison (and I have more than 15 years experience) I was never referred to by my number. It just isn't done. But, in Oregon, where there are 36 people named Robert Smith (for example) - the SID (prison number if you will) becomes important in terms of legal, institutional and even personal paperwork. Did I mention mail?

3/4 Other inmates called me by my first name. Some staff would refer to me by my last name. And I theirs... Staff I was on a more familiar basis with (my bosses for example) always used my first name.

5. We all have numbers, in prison or out - it's how society functions.

6. From a logistical standpoint - people really want to get their mail and inmate accounts kept in some kind of reasonable, accessible order. Numbers, prison, social-security or bank-account numbers, allow this to happen. There is really no other (reasonable) way.

I've honestly never heard a staff refer to "Inmate 123456 - come to the control room..." seriously, it just doesn't happen.

Hope that answers some of your questions...
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Old 05-02-2012, 10:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Scott View Post
Jacob - first, you should read the definitive book Asylums: A Study of Mental Patients and Other Inmates by Erving Goffman. Although it was written in 1961, and focused on mental institutions, it is still required reading in any graduate level program dealing with the issue of identity restructuring within a correctional (or more specifically and accurately, "institutional") context. Absolutely fascinating. There is a certain "depersonalization" required when moving into any kind of institution, whether it's prison, the military or even a monastic setting (where I also spent eight years). They changed my name too...

This "depersonalization" is necessary because within an institutional context, it is the identity of the organization that takes precedence over the identity of the individual. This is necessary (from a sociological standpoint) for the institution to maintain clear channels of control. There are other models where this is not the case, just as there are prison systems that don't use numbers... but it's rarely found within the United States outside of a very few therapeutic prison settings.

You might also check out International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology and do a search for "Inmate Identification" or "Effect of Prison Numbers" for some interesting abstracts. Prisons that use the "therapeutic community" model rarely use prison numbers outside the context of identification processes.

1. The prison number really isn't of significant consequence. In Oregon, it's called a SID (or State Identification Number) and is issued to everyone employed in any public capacity within the State, as well as inmates. Our culture is pretty number oriented as far as identity is concerned. Try and get a loan within a social security number or a decent FICO score. The "prison number" thing is a bit over dramatized. It's come a long way since the Nazi's branded Jews (and others) with ID numbers in the concentration camps of the 1940's.

That's really the image you have, and it was entirely the intent of the Nazi's to completely depersonalize their victims, to make eliminating them easier and less traumatic for the staff. It's not really accurate in terms of contemporary American prison life. In psychological terms, that might be called an "associative image".

2. In prison (and I have more than 15 years experience) I was never referred to by my number. It just isn't done. But, in Oregon, where there are 36 people named Robert Smith (for example) - the SID (prison number if you will) becomes important in terms of legal, institutional and even personal paperwork. Did I mention mail?

3/4 Other inmates called me by my first name. Some staff would refer to me by my last name. And I theirs... Staff I was on a more familiar basis with (my bosses for example) always used my first name.

5. We all have numbers, in prison or out - it's how society functions.

6. From a logistical standpoint - people really want to get their mail and inmate accounts kept in some kind of reasonable, accessible order. Numbers, prison, social-security or bank-account numbers, allow this to happen. There is really no other (reasonable) way.

I've honestly never heard a staff refer to "Inmate 123456 - come to the control room..." seriously, it just doesn't happen.

Hope that answers some of your questions...
Scott, I agree with all that you had to say. The only thing that I would like to add is that there are some minor differences apparently between the different institutions. During my incarceration, I was never referred to by my TDC number, I was called my bunk number. Whether it was for an appointment, mail call, or anything else, I was called 10 Delta 37. I can count a handful of times that I actually heard my name uttered by staff and that was either during in take or when I was being released. Like you, other offenders either called me by my first or last name. Although there was a impersonal aspect to being called 10D37, that was how they kept us separated. It was all by the numbers, which in total agreement with you, is how society is organized and run today.
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Old 05-09-2012, 06:54 AM
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Here in Texas I was always referred to by my name by both staff and other inmates. Mostly just my last name. My prison number was used to verify my identity. For example, during mail call you have to recite your prison number to verify you are the person on the address, or during official meetings you have to confirm your prison number to verify you are the correct inmate.

In Texas you actually have two numbers. The SID number never changes regardless, but the TDCJ-ID number changes with each new conviction. I have been incarcerated 5 times and have four TDCJ-ID numbers. My first was 32**** and my last was 55**** and the reason I have 4 numbers instead of 5 is because one of those incarcerations was for a parole violation without a new conviction. I might add that currently TDCJ-ID numbers are 7 digits instead of 6 like they were the last time I was in.

I have been out going on 13 years and haven't referred to my prison number in years. Only time I ever had to use it was when reporting for parole.
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Old 06-04-2012, 02:23 PM
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In the federal system, the number is the gift that keeps on giving. Once you receive your number, it is yours for life.
The number was required to be written on letters, both incoming and outgoing. Also, the number was used in determining what day we went to commissary. The number was in two parts: ex: 12345-020. So, if the fifth digit is odd, the person goes on the second day that the commissary is open. With an even digit, that person goes on the first day. The last three numbers are the court district where the person was first sentenced. In the federal forum, I believe, there is an entire list of these numbers. I can't think of anything else at this point. I'll probably share more later. (I have to set the table now...)
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