I am Prisoner 10-33-39-21, this number stitched to the fabric of my skin. I am not a citizen. I am prisoner 10-33-39-21 since 1993 this SID number has worked on my identity as a human being like sandpaper, eroding my value. I am Inmate Hall, I am Armed Robber, I am Adult in Custody, I am Condemned I am criminal and I remain Prisoner 10-33-39-21. In Stalin’s Russia often when he would have someone murdered he would not only kill the individual but also attempt to erase him from existence. Stalin would have the victim’s name and every image eradicated from records and photos, all over Russia there were group photographs missing those who Stalin had ordered erased. This is not unlike what it feels like to be a prisoner in the United States, erased and no place. Our Citizenship is revoked; we cannot vote and are reduced to a subject. Even upon release there will always be jobs or fields of employment we are locked out of.
When Punishment was removed from the public realm i.e. torture, it was the architects of prisons most ingenious plan to eliminate us from the public’s eye. Instead of being laid open on the public stage to see your insides, rather you are eradicated to a life of civil death by a thousand apathetic cuts and the prison remains the state’s ultimate symbol of power and seemingly forever part of our landscape. Prison and its everyday happening are out of sight. The public knows all they think they need to know we committed a crime and we are where we belong, locked away from society, and upon release we are in many ways still serving a sentence. What does it mean to be a citizen? The dictionary describes a citizen as a person who is legally recognized, as being a member of a country and civics is the rights and duties of such citizenship. It is demanded of felons that we practice the duties of citizenship yet we are denied its full rights. In Oregon we may vote upon release, but that right is still denied most men convicted of a felony in many states, especially southern states. This is the result of criminalizing whole groups of people of color and or poor.
When one looks at elections in a state such as Florida, for example, where every vote counts, those felons stripped of citizenship could make the difference in policy for years to come and that is something those in power fear. As Paul Rogat Loeb points out in The Impossible Will Take a Little While, “A century ago, in the process of establishing racial segregation, Confederate states barred ex-felons from voting. These Laws remain in force throughout most of the South, and because of the drug war, have swept up huge numbers of people prohibiting 650,000 from registering in Florida alone.” When will our sentence truly be served?
What happens to those who have no outside support who suffer civil death and find no place? Where do they wind up? Currently, I may be Prisoner 10-33-39-21 and perhaps all you see is the quantitative data that says “armed robber” or “Career Criminal, incarcerated for the last 20 years.” Yes I am Prisoner 10-33-39-21, but I am also a Son, I am a brother, I am a friend, and I am a member of a community. My prison number won’t tell you I have a college education or that I spend over two years as a hospice volunteer learning lessons from the departing or that I have a capacity to be kind, compassionate and that this prisoner loves. Where will I wind up? Yes I am Prisoner 10-33-39-21 and WE are Prisoner Nation; and one day soon we will be your neighbors.
Benjamin Hall was born in Portland, Oregon in 1974. He has been incarcerated for 20 years. In prison he has become a passionate writer of narrative poetry. He is interested in restorative justice and social geography. In collaboration with Kelly Paths he started a restorative justice program in the Oregon State Penitentiary that is still up and running that is still up and running. He also worked as a hospice volunteer.
His writing has been published in the Anthology “Ebb and Flow” by the writing group “Pen thought” and in the criminal justice social magazine “context”. He is currently working on his bachelor in humanities through University of Oregon.
The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a bi-annual publication dedicated to supporting, documenting, and contextualizing socially engaged art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal focuses on a different theme in order to take a deep look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions, and the public. The Journal seeks to support writing and web based projects that offer documentation, critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.
The SoFA Journal is published in print and PDF form twice a year, in June and December by the PSU Art & Social Practice Program. In addition to the print publication, the Journal hosts an online platform for ongoing projects.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program