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Stripped of Dignity

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Dear Reader or editors:

This letter is in response to Tori Marlan's article of March 6, "Strip Search."

If prisons were serious about controlling the flow of drugs and weapons into prisons, they would strip-search prison employees. Strip-searching prisoners has little to nothing to do with security concerns. Strip-searching has to do with dehumanizing the incarcerated. Barbara Deming, author and civil rights activist, after being strip-searched wrote, "They wouldn't be able to admit it to themselves, but their search, of course, is for something else, and is efficient: their search is for our pride" (Prison Notes).

I served a six-month sentence during which I was strip-searched many times. Once I was strip-searched at 6 AM, shackled (hands to a chain around my waist, and ankle to ankle), and put on a "con air" flight to be transported to another prison. Severe thunderstorms prevented the plane from landing and resulted in me being returned late at night to the detention center I started out from, to the same shift that had seen me off. I had spent the day unable to scratch my nose, let alone unzip my pants, and the prison guards wanted to strip-search me. Despite being exhausted and in desperate need of a bathroom, I abandoned both my inclination to obey persons in power and my fear of being subjected to a forced strip search and refused. I rejected the idea that this was about reasonable security concerns and recognized the strip search for what it was and is--a weapon used in prisons and jails everywhere to dehumanize.

A friend who also served time in prison told me that once while being strip-searched he stated to the guard, "I am going to pray the Our Father because this is an affront to both of our dignities as human beings before God." The guard appeared upset and ashamed. That is the irony, the hidden cost. Both of us, guard and prisoner, are dehumanized.

Thank you for the article.

Catherine R. Feit

W. Carmen

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