Thursday, November 20, 2008


Our son Mike now has an OID. I suspect most of you who read this blog do not know what an OID is. I did not know this acronym until a few hours ago myself. An OID stands for "Offender Identification," the number provided by the state Department of Corrections which will identify Mike for the rest of his life.

It's funny how all of us have numbers associated with our lives. There are social security numbers, which by the time we are seniors in high school we can rattle off with alacrity. There is our birthdate, which typically we speak numerically, as in 01/01/70, for example. There are cell phone numbers, house phone numbers, office numbers. There is our height and our weight. For those of us watching cholesterol or blood glucose levels or blood pressure levels we have numbers associated with each of those medical measurements. Our eyesight is measured in a numerical equation of sorts. Many of us are acquainted with the mileage on the odometers in the vehicles we drive. If we are runners or walkers we may use a pedometer to measure our steps or our miles.

Every day we face a panoply of numerical excursions. But most of us do not have an OID. From what I have discovered online about the appropriate way to write an inmate in one of our state's DOC facilities, the OID must be included with the person's name or the mail will not be delivered. So our son is no longer identified by his first, middle and last names, nor even by his social security number. Now he will be a number in the criminal justice system. While I do not know how the numbers are assigned, I have to assume they have some chronological basis. If my assumption is close to correct, it means that there have been more than 226,000 others before Mike who have had such a number assigned. Nearly a quarter-million persons who have been so identified.

I suppose I am defensive about the whole thing. My experience recently recounted in this blog has soured me on many of those employed in the criminal justice system. The cynicism and biting, vulgar sarcasm continue to echo in my ears. It angers me because even those incarcerated are real people, with real stories and with people who love them. They have committed crimes against society, but they still have someone, somewhere who knows and cares about them, in spite of their choices.

The whole number thing seems to be just one more way to depersonalize an individual who is already marginalized in society. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not some bleeding-heart liberal who thinks that there is no place for incarceration in our world. I believe that when society's rules are broached there is a price to pay. But I wonder, shouldn't we as members of society be proactive in doing something rehabilitative for those in state custody. I mean, is there any better time to attempt something positive when he or she is a captive audience, supported by taxpayer dollars?

I am under no illusion that those who serve time do not deserve it, but these are people (except for the most egregious of criminals) who will one day return to our communities. Wouldn't it be better public policy to provide opportunities for change, transformation, a new way of life? I'm not sure how sitting in a jail cell for three months waiting to be released is helpful for the inmate or for the larger society. And the whole number thing irks me. I'm sure there are very good reasons why an inmate's social security number cannot be used, a number which has followed him or her since the time of birth. The assignment of a number that is used on all correspondence and identifying papers smacks a bit of Nazi Germany to me. While the number is not callously tattooed on the inmate's forearm, it might as well be.

I'm reluctant to even blog this, because I am afraid readers will think that I am somehow defending the actions that have brought Mike to this point in his life. I do not. What he has done is illegal. It has crossed the boundaries of what is appropriate, and there needs to be appropriate sanctions. I am simply pleading for some redemption in the system, rather than the simple retribution I have seen manifested in the attitudes of those who are responsible for supervising our inmate population.

I have to admit that I have complicated grief over this matter of my son being in prison. I am distressed that after all the years of effort we parents have not been able to prevent his outcome. I am frustrated that we have so few supports in the educational and social services system that could have something created a different future for him. I feel guilty that I feel relieved that he is locked up. When he is locked up it means that I know where he is, how to find him. I do not have to worry that he is sleeping on the street or on some stranger's couch, or that he doesn't have food, or that he is going to be injured or killed by those he has crossed. I am relieved, but I am grieved. And I constantly have to guard myself against the parental desire to try to convince people that for the years that Mike was in our home he was loved and valued, and that he is more gifted and valuable than his most recent choices make him appear to be.

I suppose that's what bothers me most about the whole OID number deal. Mike is more than a number, more than an inmate, more than another piece of society's refuse.

He is my son, and while I am not proud of what brings him to prison life, I still love him. OID number and all.


jen said...

Hi Bart.
I read your blog a lot and get a lot of comfort from it. Thanks for sharing personal experiences. I just had to comment that maybe it is different in Minne but here in PA there are many programs in our system for people incarcerated. We have a friend who is in jail and he can further his education in jail and was given the opportunity to do so out of jail without cost. He dropped out of these programs and ended up back in jail. He says he will continue his education in jail but any time he is given a bit of freedom he becomes irresponsible. Something as simple as staying sober enough to check in with his probation at the required times gets him back in jail and for many months. So sad.

Mary said...

Bart, I'm not sure where he's at, but there are often programs for inmates to help them complete their high school education, take college courses, etc. They are usually assessed when entering the system and provided with tools designed to help them once they are out. I hope this is available to Mike.

Mary said...

Bart, there are some prisons that have assessment programs as inmates come in, designed to provide them with assistance in their education (high school, college courses, etc.). I hope this is something available for Mike.

Bart said...

This is the first time Mike has been in Department of Corrections custody at the prison level. He has been in jail more than not since he turned eighteen, always at the county level, where there have really not been many program offerings. Largely he has simply sat and done time. I am hopeful that at the state level he will have the opportunity to finish high school and give a grip on his life. The facility where he is located also has a strong Christian ministry program, which offers me some hope as well. My frustration expressed in the blog is simply that too many who supervise inmates are cynical, negative and nasty in their approach to what they do. Surely, as a society, we can be find better and more just ways to treat criminals than what I have witnessed.

Our Family said...

Bart, though it is good that the prison has what it has to offer Mike, I heard in your blog and share your frustration that growing up, there arent a lot of options for kids with special needs...mentally and emotionally. We tend to judge people by their actions and not for the creation of God that they are. Their actions are not all that they are...Mike is so much more and I pray that today you will remember the good things that Mike is...although I know(believe me I know)that sometimes the actions our children do overshadow the other good things that they are!

I am claiming this promise today for Gods way that

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a tender heart."Ezekiel 36:26

Peace to you and your family today!

Hopewell said...

Just curious given your profession. Do you think that prison ministry programs help? That in itself could be a very helpful and interesting post later on.