Sunday, June 6, 2010

#224 Critical Prison Issues #3: Street clothes (retro)

Critical Prison Issue Thinking #3: Street Clothes

We really need to make clarify some things about inmates wearing street clothes. Some people on these sites don’t have a clue what they are talking about, and it is getting really silly when somebody that had no idea what they are talking about is revered as some expert.

Again…blind leading the blind…

This discussion is about being critical of the issue of prisons allowing inmates to wear street clothes. This is based on an idea that actually resulted in me leaving Prison Talk Online when I saw that the people there are just as much in the dark about prison as anybody else.

Awhile back, when I was on the back end of my writing for this so called “support” site, some lady made a post on the NC forums about how her son was allowed to wear street clothes on his camp. I read it and something didn’t seem right. I have been through about 7 different prisons during my incarceration, and gotten to know a bunch of guys. But not once have I ever heard of a camp that allows inmates to wear regular clothes all day, every day.

So what we have here is a gray area of information, which makes it very easy to be misleading. This person is saying that her son wears street clothes…but is she saying that they wear them ALL time, or just for certain reasons?

She never clarified that, but substantiated it by saying that she has a picture of her son wearing street clothes while on the camp, so obviously it means that he has been wearing it all the time. Right?


When I read that post, I wanted to try to respond in a gentle way, not to come out and say, “you are wrong”. Understand, this lady has never been in prison, and oddly enough, her son never said they are allowed to wear street clothes all day. She said her son has work release, which answers the question right there. But she assumed that since her son has work release, the prison will let him wear street clothes all the time…not true.

I remember making a comment on that post months ago, trying to explain that it is likely that he wears the street clothes before going to his work release, and is allowed to keep them on for a period of time when he gets back, before he has to change back into prison clothes. She didn’t agree, since she said, “well, I have a picture of my son in street clothes, so they must be allowing them to wear it all the time”. She also made some stupid comment about “you know how the rules are always changing” and made a comment about me having been out for awhile.

So in her eyes, me being out of prison for a few years makes me less knowledgeable on prison than her. This rubbed me the wrong way and it was certainly one of the reasons why I left PTO. To many idiots that don’t know a damn thing about prison.

How can somebody with over 4000 posts be so stuck up? Maybe it’s because she spent more time copying and pasting one-liners than really discussing issues.

Anyway, today she got some more “changes”. From one of her latest posts, apparently some of the NC prisons are eliminating the privilege of minimum custody inmates wearing ANY street clothes. Apparently from now on, inmates on work release will have to wear prison clothes.

To me, there is two ways to see this…I want to laugh at her because it is ironic that she ran her mouth about something she knew nothing about, and now it has come back to affect her son, whom she said had to send all his street clothes back home. But another part of me wonders how accurate that info is…after all, she is not known to be that credible.

Notice I said nothing about sympathy for her…

So the critical issue here is this; what IS the general rule about street clothes in these prisons? See, if you are going to fully understand, or begin to understand this issue, you need to hear from guys that either work in prison, or have BEEN in prison. Not from somebody who has never set foot in there, because it is too easy for them to twist the truth, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Now, I am going to challenge that lady’s stand on prisons allowing inmates to wear street clothes all day. I am not challenging the fact that some inmates are allowed to wear street clothes, I know that. Prisons do allow it, but to a point. That is what she totally ignored.

Let’s understand first why inmates are not allowed to wear street clothes. First… because they are in PRISON. When you enter the prison system, you lose the right to wear what YOU want, and the prison has to “identify” the inmates from the officers. Uniforms clearly identify who you are. In some prisons, the colors you wear identify further who you are. Lifers in some prisons wear a different color than regular inmates. Inmates on death row wear a different color than other inmates. Even jobs can be different. In NC prisons, inmates working in the kitchen wear “kitchen whites” to identify them as workers in the prison kitchen. I think even barbers wear kitchen whites as well as canteen operators.

But the whole idea of clothing is to make it uniform. Inmates in general wear the same thing. This also makes it easier when it comes to washing clothes. All these things, and likely a few others, make a strong point as to why inmates wear uniforms. But if you allowed them to wear street clothes, this creates some issues. How do you wash all those clothes, how do you separate them and how do you identify inmates if they are wearing street clothes on prison grounds?

Most of what I am going to share is based off what I wrote long ago, and on a few blogs, but it is worth repeating. It is interesting that today as I read this thread, there was a response from a person who appeared to be an officer or former officer for a prison, and he described from his view about the street clothes in prison.

He (or she) said that inmates on work release or community visits were allowed to wear prison clothes, but those clothes were kept in a locker in the administration building. When it was time for him to leave the prison, he was allowed to get his clothes and put them on, before leaving the prison. When he returns to the prison, he is allowed to keep them on for a period of time, but must eventually change back into prison clothes and return his street clothes to an officer to put back in his locker.

See, this is something that lady never talked about. She is assuming that her son is walking around the prison with regular street clothes, while everybody else is wearing prison clothes. She is assuming that he was wearing those street clothes up until lockdown…not quite true.

But she said she has a picture of it.

That doesn’t prove that he wears it all day, it only proves that he was wearing it at the same time they took prison pictures, which was very likely after he got back on the camp after his work. There is no valid reason why any prison would let an inmate wear his street clothes all day, every day. NONE.

I have known quite a number of guys that got work release, and many were able to wear street clothes to work. I have never known any guy to continue to wear his street clothes all day after he got back. Think about it, what if I worked at a job that required me to wear a shirt and tie? When I get back to the camp, I could actually be mistaken for someone important.

Hey, it’s happened before! When I was in county jail in my court clothes, other guys thought I was a lawyer. I just LOOKED like one.

Now what if I came back on the camp, and was still dressed in my shirt and tie and formal pants. To the untrained eye, I might look like some prison dignitary. Often times the warden is dressed formal, many times case managers are dressed formal, even the prison doctors might dress formal. So why would I look any different?

If allowed to remain in my “street clothes”, it would then give me an advantage to actually fool an officer or prison of who I might be. It supports the idea that “clothes make the man”. Prisons cannot lose sight of the fact that all inmates must be secured at all times. They can’t allow any slipups because of identity, because it could lead to an escape, which would make the prison look bad.

Generally speaking, this is kinda how it works:

When an inmate is qualified, and in the right level, he will be given the privilege of being able to leave the prison for either work release, community visits or home passes. He has to be approved first, before he can then have the option of having street clothes sent to him. Once that is done, and they are recorded by the prison and kept in a locker, the inmate then has only to secure a work release job, or a community visit pass or a home pass. Once these things are approved, he is then allowed to wear those clothes on that particular event.

As mentioned above by an officer, the clothes are kept separate from the inmate and he has to get permission to wear them. Most times the prison will allow him to put on these clothes about an hour before he leaves the camp, and he is allowed to keep his clothes on about an hour AFTER he returns to the camp. This is important because the misguided author of that post seems to think he can wear it whenever he wants… not true.

In fact, one hour might be generous. Some camps might require you to change immediately, unless it is near chow time. If an inmate returns to camp just before chow time, they will give him time to go eat, and maybe to go canteen before he has to change. There is a little lee-way on that. The purpose of that is that the prison understands that once the inmate gets back to camp, there may be things he needs to do sooner rather than later, that can’t wait. You can’t punish a guy on work release by making him change back into prison clothes and miss a chance to get needed supplies at canteen.

For that reason, camps will allow some time for that inmate to get readjusted to the prison before he has to surrender his street clothes. From what I was told by a guy, it was about 1 hour. But I will imagine that on other camps it could be less. But in either case, he HAS to change out before too long.

Most guys I knew on work release had to be back before dinner time, so they usually got back before 4pm. Community visits are different because a church might sponsor an inmate for an afternoon or evening program, and he might leave AFTER chowtime. Home passes can be much more extended, and varies.

But regardless of how long the inmate is outside of camp, he has to get back into the form of prison when he returns. That means getting back into the normal routine, which includes wearing prison clothes. That means he HAS to change out.

So, after saying that, I will say that there is a very, very slight chance she could be right. I never said I knew it all, so there is always a chance I could be wrong. It is possible that her son could be wearing street clothes all day.

But if you asked me to put my percentages on it, I would say I believe I am 99% right, and she is 1% right. Why? Because she has never been in prison, she never said which camp her son is in, and bases this only on the picture she has of her son wearing street clothes while in prison.

I base mine on actual experience, logic of how the work release system works, and knowing a number of guys that have been on community visits, work release and home passes. Not to brag, by I will take my credibility over hers any day.

But the sad thing is this… most people are going to believe her, and will end up spreading false info about “how her son gets to wear street clothes all the time on THEIR camp, why can’t my son do the same”.

I’d like to know more about why the NC prisons are sending street clothes home, or if that is even true. It could be just one camp, it could be because her son got that privilege taken away from him, it could be a lot of things. But since there is no real person to talk about prison there, all they will do is sit around the campfire and kick around ideas and beliefs.

But that’s what happens when you listen to people who know nothing about prison….

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