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When you watch a TV or movie that features scenes in a prison, most of the time, inmates are wearing orange jumpsuits. There was even a popular Netflix show about a women’s prison that referenced this in the title Orange Is The New Black.
In the pilot episode, the main character Piper – played by Taylor Schilling – is told when she receives her orange jumpsuit that she must wear that color as a newbie. She will eventually be issued khakis once she is transferred to general population.
This wasn’t exactly how it worked at the prison I was sent to. When I first arrived, I was immediately put in Receiving & Orientation (or, as we called it “R&O”), and I was issued khakis right away. We weren’t all put in the same place with different colors to distinguish the newbies from gen pop. Instead, those in R&O were kept completely separate from the rest of the prison population, and those in R&O weren’t allowed to communicate at all with those in gen pop.
When it comes to the world of corrections, absolutely nothing is universal. No two prisons operate the same way, which can often make it difficult to answer questions about what life is like inside prison walls.
When it comes to what prisoners wear, once again not everything is the same. Depending on the facility, you could wear everything from orange to gray to green to khaki. But, what about your own clothes? Do you get to keep the clothes you wear to prison and wear them inside?
That leads us to today’s blog post: can you wear your own clothes in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
I know that some countries around the world do allow prison inmates to wear their own clothes, but the United States is not one of those countries. I want to point out the difference between prisons and jails. In county jails, you do wear your own clothes when in you are in a holding cell, and most jails don’t put you into a jumpsuit until you are put in general population.
I’m sure there are some jails in the United States that allow you to wear your own clothes throughout your entire stay. When it comes to prison, that’s just not the case.
Allowing inmates to wear anything outside of a prison-issued uniform or clothes you can buy from canteen is considered to be a huge security risk. If an inmate isn’t wearing something that distinguishes them as an inmate, that would be seen as an escape attempt.
So no, inmates in the United States are not allowed to wear their own clothes inside of prison.
For inmates who surrender themselves to a prison instead of being transferred from jail, any personal clothing is boxed up and placed in their personal property. The clothing is then returned to you when you are released.
In my experience, all inmates were issued three sets of khakis when they arrived at the facility. For those who worked in food service, they were issued three extra sets because of the messy work environment and limited access to laundry facilities.
The moment you stepped out of your room, you were required to be wearing khakis. However, there was an exception. We were allowed to buy heather gray t-shirts, sweat shirts, sweatpants, lounge pants, and shorts from the commissary.
We could wear those items in the day room or at recreation. However, if you were going to the chow hall, medical, school, or your job, you were required to wear khakis.
Some prisons issue hunter green uniforms, gray uniforms, or blue uniforms. There are still some prisons who issue bright orange uniforms and the classic black-and-white stripes. Again, the rules vary based on the prison, but most require the inmates to wear their uniform when they are part of any kind of “movement,” which means they are somewhere in the prison outside of their cell.
At the prison I was in, we also had a form of punishment called “wearing white.” If you received a conduct violation, one of the possible punishments was room restriction. This meant you weren’t allowed to go anywhere outside of your room except to school, work, medical, or chow hall.
You couldn’t hang out in the day room, use the phones, go to rec, or go to the library. In order to make it easy on the guards, those who were on room restriction had all of their regular clothes taken away (both prison-issued and clothes from commissary) and were instead issued all-white uniforms to wear. The usual punishment was ten days in white.
I did want to mention dress out boxes because these were a big deal. When you are getting close to your release date, your family is allowed to send you a box of clothing within thirty days of your release for you to wear when you leave the prison.
There were restrictions to the dress out box. We weren’t allowed to wear all black, no camouflage, and nothing too sexy or revealing.
After being locked up for four years and wearing nothing but prison clothes and gray t-shirts and sweatpants, I was so excited the day my dress out box arrived and I was allowed to try on the clothes.
I walked out of prison in charcoal gray capri pants with a St. Louis Cardinals pullover and brand new sneakers. I had gained so much weight in prison that I had no idea what size I was, so I had to choose something that was flexible.
It was the greatest outfit I have ever worn in my entire life.
Should inmates be able to wear their own clothes in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: What Inmates Really Wear In Prison https://www.racked.com/2015/6/24/8834387/why-inmates-wear-prison-uniforms
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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