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.