a statisticOur inmate blogger writes today.

“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.”

To someone on the outside this may seem like a ridiculous exchange, but the reality makesnumber perfect sense to any one who has served time in the penitentiary.

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.

take a numberBeing identified as only a number is the first step in a process that depersonalizes you and dehumanizes you.

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.

A name is a very important thing.just a number

Signed FPS 987654X

What happens to someone who is referred to with a number? What is your opinion?

Images courtesy of:

  • bloggers.com
  • ncrunnerdude.blogspot.com
  • streetpilgrims.wordpress.com
  • papyrus.aa.psu.edu
  1. hg says:

    As I recall, this number-as-name was one of the key elements that contributed to the horror of a TV series from the ’70s called “The Prisoner”. It starred Patrick McGoohan as a man imprisoned in an idyllic-looking village on an island. Part of his brainwashing and incarceration saw him known only as ‘Number 6’ — a treatment he constantly fought against. Not meaning to misquote his charactter, but I’m pretty sure he often shouted, “I am not a number. I am a man.” Just as true in real life as in television. Probably findable on YouTube. This subtly creepy series is worth a look.

  2. Nice writing, Inmate Blogger.

  3. Joanne says:

    Very nice post. It says it all and says it all very well.

    It’d be much better if at least some of the correctional officers (unit staff) exchanged and used first names with people on the unit. There is really no need for the number there, unless the point is to dehumanize. Of course then there are those who would say this can be a potential breach in security, as it allows some familiarity/humanity and dillutes the authority of the officers.

  4. Joe Pineda says:

    Definitely thought provoking. Numbers have been used as a way to dehumanize and desensitize for far too long. You only need to recall Stalin’s famous words. “One man’s death is a tragedy and a thousand’s statistics”.

  5. “Status degradation ceremonies”, both at admission and repeatedly afterwards, are part of the prison process. There are, tellingly, no ‘status restoration ceremonies’ at discharge. This is part if the more general determination by the prison administration, the Harper government, and the general public, that they want punishment to continue forever. The concept of rehabilitation, the only resonable response to the fact that virtually all prisoners are released, is ignored. That is why Parole Officers (and of the other CSC staff who are supposed to assist rehabilitation) only do half their jobs–avoiding anything constructive and conducting their duties as harassment that increases stress and guarantees parole condition breaches and recidivisim. The largest study of prisoners on release (Zamble and Quinsey) found that parole supervision, regardless of how intensively it was conducted, was “almost totally ineffective”. There are, of course, all kinds of things that CSC staff in the institution and community can do, proven to assist desistence, but they prefer failure, are too lazy, incompetent (they have, at most, ten days training, and refuse to do anything useful), childishly irresponsible and, to cover all the problems they cause by this, habitual liars, too do anything but degrade the prisoner.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you, Chris. I will pass on your comments to the man who wrote this blog. Your comments remind me of something I witnessed. An inmate who struggled with drug addiction arranged for a ride from a family member to come at 8 AM. She didn’t want to just be let out of the prison, because she knew what would happen. Her supervisor told her “No, you will be let go at the usual time.”
      “But I arranged a ride.”
      Still no, even though there was only a few hours difference.
      A week later I heard that the woman had ODed. It broke my heart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s