“What’s your FPS number?” asks the guard.
“I don’t know,” responds the inmate.
“Well, you better figure it out, because you need to know it for everything around here,” says the guard.
“My name is…,” says the inmate, becoming frustrated with the attitude.
“I don’t care what your name is. All I need to know is your FPS number, so have a look at your ID card and give me the number.” The guard is now becoming agitated as this is taking longer than is should, and he has no desire to debate the issue.
“987654X,” responds the inmate.
“All right. You can go through.”
Especially prone to this type of argument are new inmates. An inmate in the pen has to repeat this number more times than he can count during the course of even a short sentence.
When you are an inmate in a penitentiary, you lose your name and become a number. Every inmate in a federal institution is identified by their FPS. Your FPS becomes who you are. Ask any inmate their FPS number, and it will take them about two seconds to recite it, that is how ingrained in your mind it becomes after just a few days.
It doesn’t matter that to your family you are Johnny, Billy or Steven, because your name is stripped from you when you enter the pen. Even your last name is not good enough to stand on its own, because there could be more than one person with the same last name. Just look up Smith or Jones in the phone book to bring this point home.
This is a two way process as inmates refer to guards by various names or titles. Depending on the inmate or their mood, you will hear them called ‘Boss,’ ‘CO,’ (Correctional Officer) or just ‘Officer.’ Of course behind their backs, you will hear them referred to by other less polite names. The point is that inmates choose to depersonalize and dehumanize guards in much the same way that most guards do to inmates. If we don’t have names, it is easier to keep a comfortable distance from someone, rather than identify with them and have empathy in our concrete and steel worlds.
People out in the public don’t think of themselves as numbers as we do, although they are attached quite firmly to various numbers they are identified by. People out in the public don’t identify themselves with their SIN or driver’s license, but the government identifies them by these numbers.
Signed FPS 987654X
What happens to someone who is referred to with a number? What is your opinion?
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