Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

To Box or Not to Box

I got up Friday morning like I normally do and prepared everything I needed for my trip to the showers. I was standing by the bed in my plain white boxers and t-shirt when a roommate sitting at the small desk where he is always reading and writing letters starts a conversation something like this:

"Man, you need to put some shorts on. You can't keep standing around in your boxers."

Not quite understanding the big deal (after all this is a men's dorm and I am in my room), I say, "I don't have any shorts yet. I can't buy my sweats (pants, shorts, shirts) until Monday night at the commissary."

"Man, you in prison now. This ain't the outside. There be some guys here that likes mens."

"But this is all I have. This is what I walk down the hall to the shower in (along with my shower shoes, towel, soap and shampoo)."

"You walk down to the shower like that?! What are you going to do when one of those cute boys comes up and grabs you by the a**?"

A little stunned at the possibility, not having encountered any issues so far, I ask, "What am I supposed to wear? All I have are my greens (the standard issue forest green cotton shirts and long pants that are given to inmates with a white identification tag ironed on)."

"Then you need to wear your long pants. You in prison now. This is not a college dormitory. When you get to prison you need to get everything you need as fast as possible. You should have gotten your sweats last Monday night (you can only buy clothes on Monday nights from 7-8p) instead of going to that movie."

As I noted in a previous post, I chose to see the last episode of the season for Prison Break which is shown at the exact same time as the clothes are sold in the commissary. I chose to wait a week to buy the sweats. In any case that was the gist of the conversation.

I mentioned it later to a couple of other inmates and got mixed opinions. Some agreed. Some thought I should wear what I wanted. I have chosen to wear the pants for the next couple of days until I get the sweats (which is in fact what most guys wear to the shower). I will also keep an eye out for the cute boys.

This brings up the related issue 0f modesty. Modesty is a big deal. I am living on a dorm floor with 240 guys and 2 shower rooms (and one other bathroom), a total of 10 shower stalls with plastic curtains. I have yet to see a naked person. And I don't expect to see one.

And it is not because the inmates don't take showers. You are expected to take at least one shower every day.

Nonetheless, this is not like a men's locker room at the YMCA or in college. There is no macho horseplay. I can assure you that Richard Hatch, the "naked, fat guy" from Survivor, is not strutting his stuff at FPC Morgantown, WV where he is serving time for failing to report his $1 million "Survivor" earnings. I can't overemphasize how taboo nudity is here.

And why my roommate was even offended at something as seemingly innocent as walking around in my boxers.

No comments: