Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What the Well-Dressed Criminal is Wearing

Many years ago I read one of those people-aren't-really-that-stupid-are-they? stories in the monthly magazine of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Among all the other hunting and conservation-related pieces was a cautionary article about a hapless hunter who dressed from head to foot in blaze orange (for safety, of course, deer being color blind) and took up his place in a blind well up in a tree. Some time later, another hunter shot him (not fatally, fortunately), claiming during the subsequent investigation, that "I thought he was a deer."

This is why I don't go hunting any more.

I told you that story so that I could tell you this one, which is totally unrelated except for the color orange...

There was an interesting "Explainer" article yesterday on Slate.com in response to the question, "When did prisoners start wearing orange?" If you more or less are of my age (and if you are, good luck), you may remember that the traditional garb for a prisoner was black and white stripes ... every convict you ever saw in any cartoon wore the stereotypical zebra suit. Nowadays, of course, bright orange jumpsuits seem to be what the well-dressed felon is wearing.

But why orange?

Well, it seems obvious that you'd want to dress convicts in a very visible color to make them easier to identify if they escape, and bright orange is about as visible as you can get. According to the Slate article, prisons started abandoning the zebra-stripe design in the early 20th century because it was too closely associated with the era of the infamous chain gangs ...

The suits issued to convicts after the demise of the zebra suits tended to be drab in color, and often to reflect the prisoner's level of custody (high-security convicts were issued more easily-identifiable colors). It wasn't until the 1970's that bright orange started to be used, and then mainly for convicts being transported from place to place, as an aid to control and identification.

Orange isn't universally used, although it tends to be more easily identifiable. Many prison systems dress inmates in blue or gray, and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio has dressed many of his prisoners in traditional zebra suits and pink underwear. Some prisons even allow inmates to wear their own t-shirts of any color, except for gang-related shades. This 2001 article from the St Petersburg Times ("Cellblock Chic") discusses the history of prison garb and suggests that the old zebra suit is making a comeback.


If you don't look good in orange or if horizontal stripes make you look fat, obey the law and you can pick your own colors.

Perhaps we should issue appropriate prison garb to new Members of Congress when they arrive for their freshman orientation ... it will save time in the long run.

Have a good day. Stay out of trouble. More thoughts tomorrow.



Raquel's World said...

I like the idea of them wearing pink jumpsuits. Nothing like breaking down a guys self esteem.

As for the women, we should wear white as it is the least flattering when you have weight issues.

Bandit said...

I read your comment on Mike's blog yesterday. You're still wantin' a hangin', ain'tcha?

Mike said...

This got me wondering. Do color blind guys get to hunt?

KathyA said...

There was a study some time ago about a particular shade of pink used in a prison. Seems this hue had the power to calm and completely subdue the most psychotic within minutes. The gist of the article was that after all these years of festooning little girls' rooms in pink, did we inadvertently make them (little girls) subordinate. The color, in case you're wondering, was taken 'off the market' back in the early 80s.