I’ve always preferred piercings over tattoos when it comes to body art because they aren’t permanent. It’s easy to remove a nose or belly button piercing that you impulsively had done during an alcohol-filled spring break. But, good luck getting rid of that tramp stamp!
I’ve made it clear in previous blog posts that your world completely changes when you get locked up, and all of those personalized things you enjoy everyday like clothing, hairstyles, and makeup are severely changed when you are behind bars.
You can’t wear what you want, can’t fix your hair with decent hair products, and the makeup is less than spectacular. But, what about piercings? Can you have piercings in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
When you first get to prison, you have to go through intake at a reception and diagnostic center. And during that process, an officer will strip you down, search you, and go over all of the tattoos and piercings on your body.
They will make a note of every piercing and tattoo that you haveーalong with the locationーand put that information in your inmate file. If you have piercings, they will force you to take out all of the jewelry and lock it up with your personal property.
The only exception to this is if you have transdermal or subdermal piercings. Most jails and prisons will allow you to keep the jewelry because removing it would literally require an officer to pull it out of your skin, which would be a violation of your 8th and 14th amendment rights to medical care if the procedure wasn’t performed by a doctor.
Unfortunately, some inmates have reported that guards have threatened to remove their piercings with pliers, or they have ripped the piercing out of their skin when they told the guard that they could not remove the jewelry without medical assistance.
The reason they make you remove the jewelry from your piercings is because of safety concerns. Since most body jewelry is made primarily of metal, it can be ripped from ears, noses, nipples, and navels and cause personal injury. Also, removed jewelry can be used as weapons against another inmate or staff, and the jewelry can be contraband for the prison black market.
When you are released from prison, all of your jewelry is returned to you. In the meantime, to keep the piercings open, many inmates will break off the teeth of a comb and put those plastic pieces into their piercings to avoid them closing up. However, if you do that and get caught, they will force you to remove the comb teeth and throw them away, and you will most likely receive a conduct violation, which will result in some type of light punishment.
Using comb teeth or the cap off of a shampoo bottle to keep your piercings from closing up can also cause infections. However, many inmates take the risk and do it if they don’t plan on being locked up for a long time. Those with long sentences usually don’t mess with it and let their piercings close.
Getting a tattoo in prison is pretty common, especially in the men’s facilities. But, believe it or not, prison piercings are also a thing. To do it, inmates get crafty. Usually, they use a shoestring and a sharpened plastic spoon or toothbrush to get the job done.
Also, in men’s prisons, there is a process called “pearling” where small objects are implanted into the skin of the penis. Even though it is a popular pastime these days, I’m not going to go into detail on that process.
If you do get caught with a prison piercing, you will get in trouble because it is a form of “self mutilation,” and that’s against the rules. The punishment for this isn’t just a conduct violation. You could find yourself going to the hole for weeks, if not months.
Getting piercings in prison is not nearly as common as tattoos. In the prison I was in, I didn’t see anyone get a piercing. Body modification seems to be a much more popular activity in men’s prisons compared to women’s facilities, in previous experience.
How should prisons handle body jewelry and piercings? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Know your rights: Transdermal and Subdermal Piercings A Guide To Piercings In Jail https://cldc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Transdermal-Subdermal-Piercings.updated.pdf Holy cow! Handling body jewelry and piercings https://www.correctionsone.com/correctional-healthcare/articles/holy-cow-handling-body-jewelry-and-piercings-vRHoEjvuSqLjvE4m/ Prisoners Talk About DIY Body Modification Behind Bars https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/yvem7g/prisoners-talk-about-diy-body-modification-behind-bars
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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