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Stripped of Dignity

"If you want to shower you will be strip searched," the Sergeant yelled at the top of the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) hallway. "You need to be standing at your door in your underwear, and when I get to your door I want to see your a******."

Cries of anger resounded down the RHU wing from the 20 inmates locked behind their two heavy steel doors. Showers were given on Monday Wednesday and Fridays and now a lazy officer was using strip searches like a weapon to dissuade most of the inmates from getting a shower on this day. The Sergeant was thought to be gay, and most of the men on the wing wouldn't subject themselves to spreading their butt cheeks and being gawked at by a man who often made gay jokes and suggestive innuendo.

I slipped from the bed, not bothering to put on the yellow jumpsuit that was our only clothing other than underwear and socks. The sergeant had left the wing door open and aside from listening intently at the door there was no way to know when he would return, and if he came by and I wasn't standing at the door it would be documented on the chart outside my door that I had refused my shower.

It was cold. Actually it probably wasn't below 65° f but with nothing but underwear on it felt much colder than it was. I began running in place, steeling myself for the dehumanizing experience to come.

After over 20 years in prison I have been strip searched more times than anyone, including me, could guess. I'm more open minded than most and realize that necessity of the process in certain situations, but for the life of me I couldn't grasp the necessity for such an invasive security procedure when inmates were already walking to the shower and nothing but underwear and clogs. I realize that the process was adopted as one more way to deter inmates from leaving their lock up cell.

Forcing someone to stand stark naked, lifting their scrotum, and bending over to spread their butt cheeks is one of the most humiliating experience anyone could imagine. But for prisoners it is just a way of life. Many prison jobs require this procedure at the beginning and end of work shifts. Visits are one of the most anticipated events of prison life, yet at they're completion you have to descend from cloud nine and plummet back to Earth for yet another strip search.

Yet just because something is uncomfortable doesn't mean it's unnecessary. In many cases contraband is discovered by using these means of searching. However, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), searches hundreds of thousands of travelers each day without employing cavity searches except in the most extreme cases. TSA is not just charged with preventing a small amount of drugs to be detected (the only thing that could go unnoticed during a pat down search) but protecting large airplanes and all of their passengers.

One thing I've noticed during incarceration is to focus on the things in life that I have the power to change. I'm not sure if you could say that this practice grants me serenity, but for the most part, it guards my sanity. The simple fact is, strip searches are going to be an invasive part of my life for the foreseeable future. They aren't going anywhere. They are just one more inescapable and uncomfortable part of the prison experience.


Enigma is a man incarcerated in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. He has served over 20 years and been to multiple prisons. Please share your thoughts on this subject in our comment section or ask any questions you may have. We look forward to your feedback and appreciate your time and support.


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My lo was at Broad river in RHU whe a sergeant was demanding the inmate to be up and ready to bare all. He was explaining to me that only one sergeant does it. Everyone else was cool. My lo called him out one day in front of a captain and the warden other inmates cosigned he didn't have to do that anymore he has now been shipped from that institution.


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