By the Numbers

Let me tell you a little bit about my job. I work in one of Alabama’s prisons and my job is data entry. Basically all of the paperwork that’s generated through the institution comes to me to be scanned into a database so that it can be accessed by anyone in the state. Every institution has one or two people like me in their employ. And I know it sounds kind of boring and I thought it did before I actually started the job, but now that I’m over two years in, I can’t say that it is. I do really enjoy it. Weird, I know.

Now every inmate has their own unique identification number. That’s because we have so many inmates through the whole state and there are a lot of them that have the same name. Having a number makes it easier to bring up one specific inmate’s file and information. But that system can have draw backs, especially for someone in my position.

When I first started at my job, we had a database system where you would type in the inmate’s number in the search and it would bring up his name. You click on his name and it would bring up all of the stuff that had already been scanned in for him. It didn’t have his demographic details or a picture but at least it would display his name. But a year ago last Christmas, a new database system was implemented. Now you just see a number. Just the number.

With what I do, I do have direct interaction with any of the inmates. We do have a couple of that work in our office, but that’s really the extent of that. So I’m already kind of removed from them. But when they became numbers only in this database system, it became even more so. After a while, I started to feel odd about it. I mean, we do have a different database that does have their demographic details and picture and all that, but most of the time, I don’t need to use it.

So you may be wondering why I started feeling bad about this; after all they’re inmates in a prison and have done something to be put there. And of course you’re right. But they are also a human being, somebody’s baby, somebody else’s brother, father, uncle, etc. Even after what they’ve done to be incarcerated.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the database system is a bad thing. I don’t know anything about programming, so I can’t say with certainty, but I’m sure that something like that has to simplified so that it can be easy to use or not take up too much space. And I’m probably the only one out of all of the people that do what I do that feel like I do. It’s just weird to me that they’re mostly numbers on a screen to me. Just numbers.


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