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Mr. Alice:

Once in jail, one receives issued clothing, to include underwear. What is the average life of that one-issued daily underwear, from one inmate to another, having been washed and worn for each inmate? If I were ever to be arrested and compelled to slip on a daily-issued pair, can one assume that 30 or more previous inmates have passed their legs through those two holes? Who determines the life of jail-issued underwear? Is there a colorful laundry chart (shades of white to brown) that determines when to stop issuing fatigued underwear, besides too many scratch holes? Does the county jail use fabric softener?

-- Innocent until proven guilty, Lemon Grove

For an answer to this one, we went directly to them that wears 'em. Ma Alice's pedigree has more felons per square inch than San Quentin. Anyway, if they slap the cuffs on you in San Diego, here's how the underwear situation plays out. In county jail you're issued one pair of light green briefs. No boxers allowed, since they're considered a fashion statement on the street, and they try to avoid that kind of 'hood thang. The county's laundry schedule is a little confusing and depends on whether you're washing lights or darks; but in general, you'll wear your tighty greenies for three or four days before they issue you another pair and collect the dirty ones. And yes, of course, you will be wearing a pair previously worn by some random car thief or murderer or purse-snatcher who turned them in three days ago. When the briefs are so shredded you can't tell a leg hole from a scratch hole, they're discarded.

Undies-wise, you're actually better off in the state system. When you come into prison you're issued brand new clothing: three pairs of boxers, three pairs of jeans, five pairs of socks, three white T-shirts, two long-sleeved blue shirts, and one pair of soft "karate" or shower-type shoes. All but the socks and shoes are made by inmates. (Did you know that the guy who stole your car could, at this very moment, be sitting at a sewing machine learning how to make French seams and buttonholes?) I don't know if there's a felony fashion hierarchy-- whether a pair of Chuckawalla State Prison jeans are, like, the Tommy Hilfiger of the yard, much hotter than Folsom jeans.

So you've got your new clothes issue, and that's it. Officially anyway. If you're doing 2 years or 20, you don't routinely get any more unless you're moved to another prison. But in state prison at least you have control over your laundry. You can either do your own or send a net bag with your dirties to be washed in the prison laundry. They never remove the clothes from the bag; they're washed right in it, so you get back what you sent out. Fabric softener? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Yeah, sure. Industrial-strength detergent and some kind of disinfectant. At least that's what I'm told lock-up laundry smells like.

Of course three pairs of boxers won't last forever. You can request a new pair (new to you, anyway, not brand new) if yours are so thrashed they're unwearable. But it's faster to get them through the unofficial inmate system-- you know somebody who works in the laundry or someplace where they have access to unclaimed skivvies, and you trade him a pack of cigarettes for a new set. After your initial issue of clothing, though, the odds are slim that you'll ever put on a pristine pair of boxers. The only other time might be when they spring you loose, if your mom or girlfriend didn't sent you any street dress-outs. The state will sell you a set of new prison clothes to wear on that long bus ride home.

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