ORLANDO – For most people, having their driver’s license or a credit card with their name on it is all they need to prove who they are, and those cards give them instant access to whatever they want.
What they don’t realize is how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to lead normal lives if those cards disappeared. But Carl Guerrina understands that all too well.
“Without an ID, you’re nobody,” he said.
Not having that small ID card, Guerrina said, means the average person can’t do any of the things they need to survive on a daily basis.
“You can’t open a bank account,” he said. “You can’t go to any day labor site and get a job without an I.D. card. You can’t get health care, and you can’t even get into the Social Security Administration office to get Social Security benefits.”
Guerrina knows this from first-hand experience – but not because he lost his identification cards and struggled without them. Guerrina is an examiner with the Florida Licensing on Wheels mobile unit, a division of the Florida Department of Motor Services.
He operates a bus that travels across the state to offer citizens a variety of services, including obtaining a driver’s license, securing an identification card, or registering to vote.
His division also works on a special program in conjunction with the Florida Department of Corrections to assist a group that has a major problem with their identification: inmates in the state’s prisons. After being incarcerated for years, these inmates have lost their driver’s licenses and other forms of identification. They’re identified only by their six-digit Department of Corrections number, the prison they’re incarcerated at, their initial receipt date when they first arrived there, and their release date.
“This is a pilot program by DOC that they’ve been doing for two years now,” Guerrina said. “They (DOC officials) put the inmates’ documentation together so we can get them an identification card when they’re being released. Even people with substantial means, it’s difficult for them to get all their documentation together.”
The mobile unit travels across Florida to the state prisons in order to help inmates get an identification card as they move closer to their release date. The mobile unit’s next stop will be at the Marion Correctional Institute in Ocala on Dec. 14.
“The Department of Corrections actually coordinates it,” Guerrina said. “We do about 60 inmates at a time. We actually go on site and help the inmates get ID cards. We help them get an ID so they can hit the ground running when they get out.”
Guerrina’s mobile unit is coordinating these efforts with IDignity, a program created to help homeless people in Central Florida overcome the challenge of obtaining the personal identification that enables them to become self-sufficient.
“It’s a homeless advocacy group founded when five churches in downtown Orlando realized they needed to address homelessness in Orange County,” Guerrina said. “One of the reasons they’re homeless is they can’t get an I.D. card.”
This is particularly true for inmates, he said, who sometimes leave prison and have nowhere to go – and end up joining the ranks of the homeless. Upon release from prison, inmates are given a change of clothes, $50, and a bus ticket to the community they want to return or move to.
Without an identification card, Guerrina said, it becomes impossible for them to function.
“It’s a very big problem,” he said. “For inmates, it’s an extremely difficult problem.”
Before they can get an ID card, the inmates need to let Guerrina’s mobile unit know where they’re going after they get released, so the card can contain their photo, name, and new address.
For most inmates, he said, they’re leaving prison to either move into a private residence – usually a relative or friend’s house – or into a halfway house, also called a recovery house. They’re designed to help people – including inmates — begin the process of reintegration with society. It’s believed to help reduce the risk of recidivism by convicted felons, and some halfway houses are meant solely for reintegration of people recently released from prison or jail.
“A lot of the inmates kind of know where they’re going to go after they get out,” Guerrina said. “Inmates have it better than homeless people. At least the inmates have the time to figure out where they’re going to go.
“But if they absolutely don’t have a place to go to, there is an exception process,” he added. “But they need to have an idea of where they’re going to be hanging out — which neighborhood, for example.”
If they do, what they will receive is “an actual state-issued ID card,” he said. “Then they have an actual ID so they can go immediately for a job or to enroll in school.”
Guerrina said his office is only too eager to help these inmates get to that place.
“To us,” he said, “helping people is helping people.”
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