A STATE OF MILD SHOCK
Blindfolded and in a state of mild shock over their surprise arrest by the city police, our prisoners were put into a car and driven to the "Stanford County Jail" for further processing. The prisoners were then brought into our jail one at a time and greeted by the warden, who conveyed the seriousness of their offense and their new status as prisoners.
Each prisoner was systematically searched and stripped naked. He was then deloused with a spray, to convey our belief that he may have germs or lice – as can be seen in this series of photos.
A degradation procedure was designed in part to humiliate prisoners and in part to be sure they weren't bringing in any germs to contaminate our jail. This procedure was similar to the scenes captured by Danny Lyons in these Texas prison photos.
Consider the psychological consequences of stripping, delousing, and shaving the heads of prisoners or members of the military. What transformations take place when people go through an experience like this?
The prisoner was then issued a uniform. The main part of this uniform was a dress, or smock, which each prisoner wore at all times with no underclothes. On the smock, in front and in back, was his prison ID number. On each prisoner's right ankle was a heavy chain, bolted on and worn at all times. Rubber sandals were the footwear, and each prisoner covered his hair with a stocking cap made from a woman's nylon stocking.
It should be clear that we were trying to create a functional simulation of a prison – not a literal prison. Real male prisoners don't wear dresses, but real male prisoners do feel humiliated and do feel emasculated. Our goal was to produce similar effects quickly by putting men in a dress without any underclothes. Indeed, as soon as some of our prisoners were put in these uniforms they began to walk and to sit differently, and to hold themselves differently – more like a woman than like a man.
The chain on their foot, which also is uncommon in most prisons, was used in order to remind prisoners of the oppressiveness of their environment. Even when prisoners were asleep, they could not escape the atmosphere of oppression. When a prisoner turned over, the chain would hit his other foot, waking him up and reminding him that he was still in prison, unable to escape even in his dreams.
The use of ID numbers was a way to make prisoners feel anonymous. Each prisoner had to be called only by his ID number and could only refer to himself and the other prisoners by number.
The stocking cap on his head was a substitute for having the prisoner's hair shaved off. The process of having one's head shaved, which takes place in most prisons as well as in the military, is designed in part to minimize each person's individuality, since some people express their individuality through hair style or length. It is also a way of getting people to begin complying with the arbitrary, coercive rules of the institution. The dramatic change in appearance of having one's head shaved can be seen on this page.