At New York’s Rikers Island, female inmates use tampons as scrubbing pads — not as sponges. Prison issued tampons are waterproof.
Humiliating in Prison
To request a macho guard to give a tampon is humiliating,” wrote Chandra Bozelko in The Guardian . “But it’s more than that. It is an acknowledgment of the fact that the prison controls your health and your self-esteem.”
Another female inmate in Riker’s Island wrote to the Committee Against Political Repression about how she was made to feel going without pads or tampons. “It is an experience that either works to degrade inmates, intentionally or degrades us as a result of trying to save money. Either way, the consequences are the same: prison makes us hate a portion of ourselves. It turns us against our own bodies.”
The request is even harder to make when the guard complains about his tax dollars being spent to pay for inmate supplies. The prisoner wants to tell the guard they wouldn’t have a paycheck to pay taxes in the original place if jail staff weren’t needed to do tasks like feeding the inmates and handing out sanitary products. But the convicts keep quiet because they need that pad.
Hard to Come By
Sanitary commodities are not easy to obtain in jail or prison. At Rikers, female inmates receive five per week — to share. The absence of hygienic items is so inadequate that it is not unusual to see pads fly out of an inmate’s pants. Prison pads don’t hold wings and a minimum of adhesive. When a female uses the same product for numerous days, the pad often doesn’t adhere to her undergarments, and it slips out.
To avoid that problem, many inmates layer and quilt together about half-dozen pads at once. They are making a do-it-yourself diaper that is too large to slip down their pants. Those inmates are fortunate. They can afford to purchase their pads from the commissary. However, roughly 80 percent of female inmates are poverty-stricken and can’t afford the $2.65 the maxi pads cost for a pack of 24. When you only earn 75 cents a day and have to buy other things like toothpaste and deodorant, pads become a luxury.
New York isn’t alone in making feminine hygiene products difficult to find. Prisoners in Michigan filed litigation in December claiming that sanitary products are so rare that their rights are ignored and infringed. One female, in Michigan, bled into her clothes and was ordered to dress in her stained jumpsuit after a strip-search.
Not Just Financial
The causes for scarcity are more than economics. Despite the idea that helping to keep prisoners clean would be in the prison’s best-interest, prisons dominate convicts by keeping hygiene just beyond their grasp. Clothing stains work into self-respect and are a constant reminder of the powerlessness of female inmates. When a prisoner requests something that is needed, the power structure between prisoners and jailers is crystallized. The corrections officer can meet the request or refuse. There’s little the inmate can do to affect the decision.
Prison Project: Dignity Behind Bars
“Dignity Behind Bars” was launched in the summer of 2015. The project of A Woman’s Worth, Inc., endeavors to increased inmate’s dignity and raise awareness by assisting women globally.
DBB suggests four ways concerned individuals can help:
Give pads or tampons by mailing an unopened container, marked “Prison Project” to PO Box 5309, Beaverton, Oregon 97006.
Make contact with a local women’s prison and ask for a copy of their commissary list. Sending a copy of that list will allow A Woman’s Worth to organize and collection information on costs and product availability inside prison walls.
A financial contribution, in any amount, will help defray the costs of additional feminine hygiene items and other supplies for female inmates.
Any organization interested in requesting more information on Dignity Behind Bars can contact the parent group here.
There are lots of ideas which could be made to return dignity to female inmates. Super soft, stain-free underwear, Thinkx, is possible, but they can be pricey. $200 for seven pairs.