This is How Abuses Occur: Part 3/3 Strip Searches

This change will only affect the ‘secure unit’ (max and seg.), where I am held. They will dominantly affect max women who are trying to ‘do well’.

Current procedure:

As it stands, every time we (max prisoners) are taken from max to a different area in the prison, we are heavily monitored. Depending on our levels, (I will post a piece explicitly about levels shortly) we are shackled or handcuffed or both, and all of us have as many as 4 guards (level 1) and as few as 1 guard (level 4), remain with us for the entirety of our absence from max. We are never unsupervised, and we do not come into any physical contact with any other imprisoned people or staff. Also, as we leave and return everything we are wearing and are carrying (if anything) is written down, and we are ‘frisk searched’. A frisk search is a female guard putting her hands first under our breasts, then along our arms, down the sides of our torsos, across the front of our hip lines, and up and down both the inside and outside of our legs. Every time we leave and enter max.

 

The changes are written in the memo as:

 

“Staff will be authorized to conduct a routine strip search of an inmate where the inmate is leaving a secure area of a penitentiary.” Secure areas include but are not limited to max units. They continue with an example:

 

“…the following example illustrates the additional searches for inmates:

 

in this example, a control post within the Bowden Annex could be designated as a secure area. If a inmate housed at Bowden Institution goes to the Bowden Annex for a specified purpose, e.g. to attend a program, and then returns to the institution, he may be subjected to routine searches in the following manner:

  1. When leaving Bowden Institution
  2. When entering the Bowden Annex
  3. When leaving the Bowden Annex, and
  4. When returning to Bowden Institution”

 

(*Note: CSC does not differentiate between male and females in its implementation of the strip search policy. I’ll talk about this trend in the future.)

 

I wish writing this, that I could have had more time to post about what this prison looks like and how it operates, because there are no rational or logical grounds on why or how a strip search in these conditions is needed. It’s impossible to see any benefit for the prison. Max is not some different building – it’s simply the other side of the door. And there aren’t any drugs or contraband issues – and we are all constantly in arms reach and sight of guards anyhow!

A better understanding of this prison would also help you understand there are psychological implications to this change. So, they’re now telling us that anytime we leave max we will be strip searched – but max runs on a system of “get your levels – get out to medium to do programs – it’s the only way you’ll get out of max.”

 

I personally do as much as I can out of the dark and highly negative max unit. But if I have to expose my body to the guards who work in max, who belittle me everyday, I will not.

I cannot.

 

Max guards aren’t social workers. They are not our friends. They are not nice. They routinely talk about us to other max prisoners – when they attempt to talk negatively to me about someone I express how I do not like it. But the point is that they do. They make fun of us, throw out our personal belongings, and some of us, myself included, feel like some, not all, but some of the guards already use our bodies as weapons against us.

I don’t say such things lightly, and I certainly didn’t want to approach this issue so soon into the blog, but it has approached us, so I will share what I mean.

 

I will share 2 stories. Mine, and peer ‘A’s’.

 

Peer A was in the shower. Guards entered the pod for a round. It was in the afternoon, when we are not generally allowed to shower, but Peer A had permission. The guard banged on the shower door, then proceeded to open the shower door where Peer A was naked in the shower, and proceeded to tell Peer A to get out right away, staring at her refusing to close the door again. I watched horrified. Peer A thought she had permission, but it was needless for the guard to open the door to scream at her naked. Peer A had been sexually molested as a child. This devastated and triggered her. She tried to file a grievance about the incident, which brought her months of subtle gestures from the guards indicating their unhappiness. She eventually lost, and felt worse for having tried.

Shower incidents such as this are frequent, unfortunately.

 

I was dressed up and waiting to go to school in medium. Guards entered the pod for a round. One looked at me and shouted “ Kish do up your sweater, put your breast away.” My breasts were not ‘out’ I had on a spaghetti strapped floral sundress which I had worn frequently, and a button up sweater open, over it.

I always dress nicely to go to the inside-out program. Occasionally I’ve been made fun of by guards, but never like this, and I certainly wasn’t exposed in any way.

But I didn’t want conflict. I was overwhelmed. She said this is front of my whole pod. I did up my sweater and went to the cell I was in, and began to cry.

She followed me.

“Kish, lets go, hallway, now.”

I didn’t want to go, I told her.

“It’s not a question Kish.”

In the hallway things got worse. She didn’t want to talk or apologize, she wanted to berate me.

“Your breasts offend me Kish” …I’ll never forget those words.

“There’s men working here, don’t you know what you’re doing to them!?”

I told her my breasts weren’t out and that I wasn’t comfortable having a conversation where my body was talked about in such away.

She went on and on about how wrong I was until I literally put my head in my hands, turned and faced the corner and repeated over and over “I did what you asked me to, I want to go back to my cell.” She eventually stopped and let me go, but not before telling me we would “finish later.”

 

I just wanted to look nice for school. Anyway, shortly after the teacher came for me, the same guard was waiting to frisk search me. I didn’t want her touching my body, but she did, and I didn’t say a word. I knew better than to file a grievance.

She still works here, and she is the only guard who scares me. We don’t talk, I stay in my cell when I see her. But she looks at me, late at night when she does rounds, and her eyes are hate-filled, and it scares me. Soon she’ll be able to strip search me.

 

There’s no reason for a strip search when we don’t leave their sides, when we are shackled and watched by them. And perhaps the 2 incidents I shared don’t sound harrowing in themselves to you, but they hurt us. We can’t walk away, and now, on top of all else, we will live in the fear of more incidents, and worse incidents happening. Not a small number of women who end up in max, have been sexually abused. They’re already in jail. They should not have to feel like the abuse is continuing.

 

 

 

 

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One comment on “This is How Abuses Occur: Part 3/3 Strip Searches

  1. anon says:

    I’m glad you’re highlighting this proposed change, it’s a particularly gross one. The state routinely uses this kind of sexual harrasment as a control mechanism against women, and increasing their ability to do so against a captive population is pretty sick. It is brave of you to speak up from the belly of the beast against this, and it’s brave and important that you’ve created a public space like this to share the knowledge you’ve gained that is typically hidden from the public.

    The dominant narrative around prison is that prisoners deserve to suffer. Those reactionary voices will correctly see these changes to search policy as just another way of making incarcerated people suffer, but drawing out the ways that searches and prison in general are aimed at and affect women differently than men seems like a good way of breaking through their knee-jerk hatred.

    Keep writing Nyki! This is good work.

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