Observations Reflection

Jewelry in Jail.

When I started working in the jail, officers and health staff alike told me, “You will get more comments about your jewelry here than anywhere else in your life.”

I don’t wear much jewelry, but inmates—who are people, so let’s call them people—do notice and comment:

  • “Those are nice earrings.”
  • “Wow—what a pretty bracelet!”
  • “So you got a man, huh?”
  • “Hey, that’s a nice bracelet. What’s it made of? Is it real? Where’dya get it from?”

It is obvious in some conversations that the people in jail are assessing the value of my jewelry. In rare instances they might use their questions or comments to frighten or intimidate. (“I once stole a bracelet off of a woman that looked just like yours….”)

In most cases, people in jail blurt out compliments about jewelry. They’re just reacting.

Jail is a rough place: The one I work in is a concrete block. Many walls are coated with institutional blue, grey, or yellow paint. The floors and ceilings feature that speckled grey hue associated with pavements and cement trucks.

Everyone in jail wears a uniform: Inmates wear red uniforms. Officers wear black uniforms. Health staff wear long white coats.

Many things in jail are uniform: Meals are served at the same times every day. Meals are contained in uniform brown paper sacks. The food inside the paper sacks is often the same day after day. Inmates often stay in the same cells with the same cellmates and the same officers. There are few things for the officers and inmates to do as everyone waits for the time to pass.

The only shiny things people see are things associated with hostility: The glint of the steel handcuffs and waist chains. The dull finish of the chrome-plated shower stalls that offer just enough—but not complete—privacy. The glare of the fluorescent lights overhead. They’re not things of beauty.

When you’re in a place where everything is dull and uniform, sometimes you can’t help but notice different and pretty things. That bracelet, that ring, that necklace: Those are small items of beauty in a place where few things are beautiful… or are allowed to be beautiful.