The Van Zandt County Criminal Justice Centerâ€”the county jailâ€”in Canton, Texas, has repainted its cells pink and issued inmates jumpsuits it calls pink (but which are more like a dull magenta, really).
Stay with me here. I heard about it on our local news here in L.A., so the report may have been skewed. But it took a very different focus from the newspaper article I linked to. There was no mention made of “psychological benefits.” Instead, it was presented basically as a kind of psychological offensive, designed to make potential criminals want so badly not to be put in a pink room and made to wear pink clothes that they think twice about breaking the law in the first place.
Because pink is girly.
Everyone from the jail who was interviewed by the L.A. reporter brought up how they felt “unmanly” because of the pink clothes and walls. So I really see two big problems here, and they’re bound up together in a way I haven’t seen before. The first one is the idea that colors have anything intrinsic to do with gender, and specifically that pink is a girly color, and that men who wear it should feel humiliated and emasculated. It’s just more sexist U.S. American crap about masculinity, the kind of thing I hate, but it’s not surprising to me. I have, in fact, grown up as a man in the U.S.A.
What is surprising to me is that Van Zandt County would use its police power to reinforceâ€”or, at best, exploitâ€”that kind of thinking by specifically adopting a policy that threatens men (and I have yet to see any reference to female inmates at this jail) with coerced humiliation and emasculation through exposure to pink. “You’d better be good, or we’ll make you feel like a girl. Or even worse, like a homo.” I mean, really.
And while I admit that I am more inclined to see this kind of dynamic in a situation than is perhaps…accurate, I know I’m not making it up in this case, because I saw inmates interviewed about it, and that’s exactly how it’s going down. The “trusties,” the “good prisoners,” still get to wear their old jumpsuits, in blue or something. Which is to help encourage inmates, I suppose, to behave well enough that they’re no longer forced to wear women’s clothes.
It’s bad enough to believe that there are some colors that are just so inimical to proper manhood that merely wearing them somehow reduces you. But I recognize that lots of people have been trained to believe that. I’m having even more trouble with the idea that the local government is taking the position that men should feel that their masculinity is taken from them by pink clothes, and that it should threaten them with that fate. I mean, it’s a ridiculous starting point, as far as I’m concerned, but once you’ve accepted that starting point, it’s revolting to me to try to instill that kind of fear in people. For the police force of a governmentâ€”that is, the arm of the government’s monopoly on legitimate violenceâ€”to broadcast to people that it will punish them by destabilizing what is for many of them a crucial and central element of their personality is barbaric. It’s a kind of willful disregard for a person’s psychological integrity that turns my stomach, and I hate that it’s being touted as a great new deterrent for crime.
Which, by the way, the sheriff or someone was interviewed in the segment, and he made a great big point about how, before they brought in all the pink, they averaged 170 or so prisoners in the jail. Once they started advertising about the new color policy (ew), the average number of prisoners dropped to 120-something, or 150-something. (My numbers are vague because I was so incensed by that point that I was seeing red with a large amount of white mixed in.) So it’s been great for keeping people from breaking the law.
A beautiful conclusion, I’m sure, but a load of crap. To say, on two or three months’ experience, without any evidence of direct causation, that making men fear that the county will turn them partly into womenâ€”just like the gays (it’s hard for me to keep track here of whom I’m deriding)â€”is the one thing that’s kept folks out of jail is absolutely unsupportable in the world of facts. With sociological phenomena like crime, and even more with second-order phenomena like crime that is then punished with jail time after the criminals are apprehended, there are lots and lots of causes that matter at the same time. And I’ll tell you this for free: a place that would enact a policy like this in the first place does not seem to me the kind of place that’s likely to have done the work necessary to make sure they’re telling the truth when they pinpoint a single cause for lowered prisoner rates.