A couple of entries ago I mentioned that I was locked up for six months in 2009. Shocking isn’t it? I was locked up in a minimum security facility in Brooklyn and in Waymart, PA. Yes, believe it or not, the fabulous “me” was in jail. You can read the government’s press release for yourself if you want, or the few articles I’ve written for a local newspaper since my release. I have neither secrets nor shame. When I was in jail I had plenty of time to think about things, one of them was of how I could redesign the prison uniforms. The thought was always present and constant—recurring. Seriously. So I’m not here to write about my jail stint (it’s not worth it and I’ve moved on with my life), instead I want to write about the ugly, unflattering and shapeless uniforms I got to wear throughout my jail time and how I would revamp them. They were sinful, degrading, horrendous and aesthetically hideous.
In Brooklyn, the inmates wear beige polyester jumpsuits that are cinched to the waist. The jumpsuits are hideous and alarmingly unflattering to the figure. My jumpsuits were three sizes too large for me. I looked like I was wearing a parachute, a camping tent, or a dull sleeping bag. I almost cried when I got my nauseating parachute. I remember asking the intake officer in Brooklyn if I could get a smaller set of uniforms because the one I had received were too big for me. “These are not supposed to make you look good. This is jail buddy,” he grotesquely replied. “Well, that’s what you think. I’m going to have to work [snapping my fingers] this XXXL jumpsuit. Don’t you know who I am?” I thought. I couldn’t verbalize my thoughts to the bad breathe chubby officer because I didn’t want to sound too weak or too demanding. Or afraid. “Hey! Do you want to exchange with me?” a short, stocky Puerto Rican man asked me. “No that’s fine, I can roll them from the bottom and they’ll look fine,” I responded to the Boricua who happened to be covered from head to toes in tacky tattoos. Clearly keepsakes from his previous stints. I didn’t want to start depending on other inmates and have them expect me to do favors for them. Not me. No way, not ever.
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After the second day in Brooklyn I was able to trim the bottom of my abysmal uniform with a razor blade my bunk mate let me borrow. I still looked fat, unattractive and scandalous. Scandalous because I had never worn such an ugly outfit before. I couldn’t even get in them—because the three buttons on the top stopped mid abdomen. It was always an event putting them on and taking them off. Nobody in the entire dorm looked good in the hot-air balloon creation. Couldn’t’ they have asked Ralph Lauren or even Tommy Hilfiger to design a uniform for the Bureau of Prisons? Why not? I bet they would design something that would be practical, functional and stylish. Classic all American.
When I arrived at the camp in Waymart, PA the uniform was a little bit more flattering than the previous jail destination. It was a teal color long sleeve and pants set. The boots were bulky and heavy; they were better than the Bruce Lee-karate shoes in Brooklyn. I knew I was going to look terrible in teal—I know which colors look good on me and which make me look flushed out, ghostly or anemic. This is true. The uniform at the camp fitted me perfectly because it was my size and I had lost about 22 pounds since the incarceration. Best of all, there was an in-house tailor (a long term inmate designated by the camp to do this job) whose job was to fix anybody’s uniform if it didn’t fit or needed a button or two. I took advantage of this service and made sure I had my own fitting. I thought I was at big couture house getting fitted for a show by a couturier and his staff. We were issued a daytime uniform and a visiting day uniform, both looked the same, except the visiting day (which I only got to wear twice) was newer than the every day look. When my friend Steven and my partner Dan came to visit me at the camp I was scared to have them see me in my teal uniform. Dan immediately said, “you don’t look in this color.” “Really? I thought it flattered my Latin complexion,” I thought. Some of the inmates tried very hard to make this outfit look decent. They tried to gay-it-up. They would roll their sleeves, they would flip up the collar, dress it up with cheap bling (beads from the commissary), iron it flat with a mix of flour and water. Hey we didn’t’ have starch, so we had to do what we could do in order to look good. Some guys spent hours fluffing themselves to look half decent for their visitors. Mostly their lovers-mistresses.
After I had performed my daily job which was to mop the floors of the dorm, I would sit by a window and sketch for an hour or two. I would draw multiple versions of the uniform and mostly in navy blue or gray. Universally masculine colors. In order to offer you a glimpse of what I’m talking about I have designed two looks inspired by the ugly uniforms currently worn by inmates in Waymart and Brooklyn. Maybe the prison system can adopt them or use them as reference if they ever decide to update the look. Now that’s a chic idea.
|My interpretation of prison uniforms: chic and functional.|
Left, Brooklyn--Right, Waymart