Monday, August 04, 2008

Inside the Big House

Today's post is about all things penal, not the willies but the naughties. I've accumulated tidbits from the world of corrections that I want to share with you, reader.

A while back I watched the documentary Hooked about the prodigiously talented basketball player Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell who never reached the NBA due to a bad drug problem, ending up in prison for robbery instead. It was okay, I guess, if you're into the sports documentary, made slightly more interesting by the fact that Hook hails from right here in sunny, violent Oakland.

The reason I'm telling you all this backstory is that one of Hook's many prison stints was done at the California Men's Colony. This sounded an awful lot like a gay men's bathhouse, but I searched interwebs and discovered that it is part of the California Department of Corrections in San Luis Obispo County which would explain the lovely scenery surrounding the endless shots of Hook doing his thing in the prison yard.

I can report back that prison websites are poorly designed and hideously dull except for this, an exhaustive list of items visitors are forbidden from wearing:

* white t-shirts as outer wear
* under wire garments
* strapless garments, halter, midriff, tank tops (male or female), sheer or transparent, wrap around tops, skirts, or dresses
* leg warmers
* shower shoes
* clothing that exposes the breast/chest area, genitalia or buttocks
* dresses, skirts, pants and shorts exposing more than two inches above the knee, including slits
* clothing or accessories displaying obscure or offensive language or drawings
* warm-up, sweat suits, jogging suits, lycra, or spandex clothing
* black, gray, or blue denim pants, jackets, skirts or shirts
* forest green or tan shirts, or blue chambray clothing
* clothing that resembles officers' clothing or inmate clothing
* camouflage type clothing or Army fatigues
* readily removable wigs, hairpeices, weaves, extensions, or any other headpiece of artificial or human hair worn as personal adornment (except for medical reasons, with prior approval)
* skin-tight or form fitting clothing
* clothing items with hoods
* scarves, gloves, hats, or excess clothing

Children 40" tall or under are exempt from the following restrictions:

* denim wear
* tights
* head gear (hats or hoods)

Visitors not properly attired will be denied visiting. Children of all ages, except where exempted, are also to be dressed in accordance with the above restrictions.

Kind of rough, isn't it? On any given day I'm wearing at least one of these items (under wire bra); today I was wearing four (plus black pants, scarf, and my weave). I'm glad I don't have anyone to visit at The Colony because assembling an outfit seems like a nearly impossible task.

Next item on our penal theme is an article from Slate about prison food that's doled out as punishment, Nutraloaf. I'm fascinated/repelled by the idea that prisons attempt to control inmates with food. At its core, this is a gross concept, like withholding food from children. How sadistically crappy is it to tell a kid they're so bad they don't deserve to eat? I was never sent to bed without dinner though I was forced to sit at the table alone to finish something I didn't want to eat which never worked. I considered that equally gross practice my training grounds for becoming the stubborn mule I am today.

Nutraloaf is the subject of multiple lawsuits throughout the country by inmates who contend that being served it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, or that it violates their due process rights because they don't get a hearing. After reading this article, I don't know that I'm moved by either of these arguments. The idea of a all-in-one nutritious loaf is nothing new (70's vegetarian nutloaf or 'neatloaf') and not inherently disgusting although some of the ingredients are a bit weird.

If an inmate misbehaves and can't be trusted with utensils, can't they just eat a sandwich with baby carrots and an apple? It seems a bit over the top not to mention a lot of extra work to make these separate meals. Actually, screw the utensils completely and make everyone eat Ethiopian food using injera--more vegetables and fiber, less meat, not to mention delish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know of few things as fascinating as the intersection of impersonal bureaucracy and the personal intimacy of caring for someone whose freedoms you have denied. You've not even scratched the surface -- and there is much to criticize.