John Nelson sizes up more products from the detention supply industry, #2 in a casual series.
Upselling Prison: accessories, upgrades, add-ons, and salespersons of the detention supply industry.
Norix Inc. claims it doesn’t just make prison mattresses: it makes “Comfort Shield® Remedy Mattresses.” And if cost equalled quality, Comfort Shields would clearly be a cut above. But ask anyone on the inside, and a prison mattress is a prison mattress is a prison mattress. They’re subject to the worst an infected wound has to offer; and they get clutched, twisted, and chewed on like nobody’s business. For something that has more prayers whispered into it than Israel’s Western Wall and all of Islam’s worry beads, nothing has less to show for it than a prison mattress.
It’s kind of tough to wrap your head around trading a pair of shoes (or several meals) to obtain a less “raped” one, but it’s what you do. Otherwise, as we once heard an intake sergeant say to a complainer, “it’s mind over mattress.”
Fortunately, distinguishing bloodstains from even less pleasant discolorations gets easier after, say, month three. But the marks inmates leave behind aren’t limited to bodily fluids or semi-solids: prisoners love writing gang names, anti-Semitic messages, zip codes, and their sweetheart’s initials on the very bedding into which your tears will be absorbed.
Naturally, these handwritten hieroglyphics can be more indelibly printed onto older cotton mattress covers than the newfangled, vinyl laminate “wipe ‘n cleans,” so these days one needs to make sure his ink has dried before drifting off to dreamland. While most ink dries quickly, sweat can often reactivate it, and entering a chow hall wearing gang signs on your face that are only decipherable by the fellas planning a hit on “those fools” after breakfast is really something to avoid. And trust me, you’ll want to take the time to check for swastikas drawn in magic marker by the guy before you. The rule is: read your mattress first and watch where you put your face.
For the record, endlessly violated (and absorbent) cotton mattress covers are actually preferable to the newer sealed plastic pads – unless you enjoy marinating in your own sweat at 3:30 in the morning. Besides, wipe ‘n cleans get weird blisters that make you wonder how your body heat could have caused mystery chemicals to churn and gurgle beneath the vinyl.
Like the mattresses, a $2,065.85 “Humane Restraint Emergency Chair” is, to me, still just a torture chair. Why? ‘Cause once you’ve witnessed how inhumanely it can serve its end users, carefully worded re-labels mean nothing. Which brings me to one of the points of this series: I love the language of this stuff! The phraseology and contradictory terms crack me up, and I find some of today’s most entertaining doublespeak in detention supply literature.
One of my all-time favorite corrections products is not something I had the indignity of being expected to use, but it does manage to exceed even my expectations for user insult and strategic product naming. Presenting the No-Shank® Fingertip Toothbrush. The name alone is like a sign the criminal spirit itself must wear around its neck. Inmates live in a world where knives can be made of many things, but “No Shank®” robs them of even the cynical, disparaging caricature of deviousness. I mean, just imagine yourself being told to “grab a few” from a bucket as the waves of why did I do this to myself? wash over you.
Inmates will shamelessly put their fingers in anything that can be poked, prodded, or plugged up. It’s not like out here in the civilian world, where there’s some decorum about what you do with yourself: when you’re locked up, nasal exploration and crevice extraction operations are a common sight. But me? I’d be thinking scalp massage!
Now that prison reform is in full swing across the United States, lots of companies are rushing forward to cash in on kinder, gentler detention products and environments. It’s remarkably similar to what they did when voters were told America could incarcerate its way out of crime; with the exception of “updated branding,” some of the products are even the same. Websites, though, are far slicker, and usually muchsofter in appearance and navigation. Many use serene color schemes to help alleviate the sense of foreboding that could accompany the unpleasant subject of detention accessories.
Whatever it takes to sway prison procurement administrators, the thinking goes, because they are on the front lines, for instance, of the uphill battle to propose pricier, more comfortable inmate writing desks that might actually be used versus a stiffer and cheaper variety. But remember, punishment and rehabilitation are in the eye of the default beholder, which still mostly means frontline custody personnel who prefer to judge for themselves which inmates deserve rehabilitation, and which – punishment.
And just as there are some prison guards who seem to believe an extra kick in the teeth is what the public wants, there are prison administrators who feel the same. The tough-tough-tough on crime rational that turned our prison system into a picture of what America has become certainly won’t change overnight, no matter how many muted tones and soothing platitudes accompany detention product marketing.
And until it does, a prison mattress will still be just a prison mattress.
Read part 1 in this series:
This article originally appeared at Where Excuses Go To Die. Reprinted with permission.
Photo: AP/Rich Pedroncelli