20 August, 2021

Missouri Irradiates Prisoners to Keep Drugs Out of Its Prisons (And I Feel Fine)

Here's something nice: I no longer have to strip naked then squat and cough in front of strangers before being permitted a four-hour visit from loved ones. Several prisons in Missouri have started using full-body x-ray machines to see if anyone's trying to secret contraband in or (for whatever reason) out of the institution.

My first taste of this, like a sip of goat's milk or a world without bees, will probably take some getting used to. I've been waiting for this visit from my mother for nearly a month. She and I waited much longer last year, yes, but since the Department of Corrections lets us vaccinated people visit, a month-long wait once again feels like a stretch of time.

The room where the big machine stands is still referred to as "Strip-Outs" by the staff – "Strips," if you're cool. Walking inside, ceiling-mounted cameras monitor in ten directions, presumably to document misconduct and shenanigans. This horseshoe-shaped room is not a place to be shy. I stand at one side, behind a red line taped to the floor, and wait for someone inside to call out, "Next."

When the guard posted there does, I round the corner and find the usual scene in Strips slightly altered. The scanner, a closet-sized unit with flat surfaces that someone tried to differentiate with two contrasting shades of hospital blue that somehow remind me of my grandmother's bathroom. A Department of Corrections emblem has been affixed to the side. The device, with its blunt corners and total lack of aesthetic considerations, manages to appear half futuristic, half retro – and one hundred percent institutional.

The guard who called me into the room is tall, with a small island of dark hair at the top of his head. It looks like he's wearing the world's tiniest beret. Standing behind a tall touchscreen control panel on casters, he tells me to choose my size of visiting clothes and change into them. Folded state-issued grays line the top shelf to my right. Of the bright orange foam shower shoes glaring out from the cabinet to my left, I pick a pair with "XL" written on the toes. Such stylish footwear for this afternoon get-together! After I exchange my own gray pants for a loaner pair and throw an almost-matching gray shirt over myself, the guard beckons me to step up.

"Put your feet on the feet and stand real still," he tells me, meaning the outlines of footprints on the floor of the device. I comply. The machine hums and clacks. Then take a step down. He rotates as I do, strategically angling the touchscreen on its casters so I can't see inside myself.

"What all does that show you?" I ask.

Without looking up, he says, "I can even see if you've had lunch."

What a concept: my pancreas has become a security concern.

When he says, "Enjoy your visit," I take it to mean that I'm cleared to enter the visiting room.

I'll be scanned again on the way out, when they'll compare the incoming with the outgoing. So many scans! I usually get at least one visit a month. Radiation's effects are cumulative. Will this give me cancer or otherwise mutate some random gland? I sure hope not. It's my mother who's come to see me; time with her is precious. Thus, in the way of anyone who makes regular life decisions that place their health at some degree of risk, in exchange for a short-term payoff, I kinda don't care what harm it can do. If it keeps me in contact with those whom I love, by all means, scan away!

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad the strip searches are over with. The radiation is something I hadn't thought of though. I guess lesser of two evils. Hope you enjoyed your visit with your mom 😊


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