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Female Strip Searches
An excerpt from Sojourner: A Journey Through America’s Women’s Prisons

Feb 08 – Feb 21, 2024

This non-fiction narrative reflects Sharon Caulder’s present recollections of experiences with the US prison system. Caulder is an African Voodoo chief and holds a Ph.D. in Mythology and Depth Psychology. Port of Harlem first presented Mark of Voodoo: Awakening to My African Spiritual, by Caulder the May – Oct 2002 print issue.
The standard search procedure every new inmate is subjected to is the vile procedure where you are required to turn your back to the guard, spread your buttock cheeks, exposing your anus, squat and cough. This inspection was routine on returning to your cell when outside of prison or following visitations.

My initial thought was, how am I going to get through such a despicable ordeal? So I hyped myself up with the thought of, “any woman who takes a job requiring her to look at anuses all day, well damn!”

Next you're asked to face cops and spread open your vagina, so the CO can examine it carefully with once again, a flashlight, told to squat down with your legs open and cough, a deep cough, three times.

That attitude protected me from emotional tattooing, preventing the regularly repeated heinous episodes from burying deep into my consciousness. Execution of the procedure was not exclusive to female guards.

This makes me think about the numbers of privileged white females not subjected to that humiliation. Maybe Ellen DeGenerous can quiz Martha Stewart and other ex-offender white women celebrities about their experiences with such a mortifying search procedure. After admitting to having not been handcuffed, when being escorted outside of their cells, like the other women. I am certain their puzzled look represented, “what are you talking about?”

I was deeply grateful that the prisons in which I inhabited did not practice the labia lift. A procedure where the female inmate is required to lift one leg and to expose her vagina by lifting her labia, and manipulating her clitoris and the hood for inspection.

“I would simply die,” I thought. Then I quickly checked myself for having such a righteous attitude. Remembering my professional years of working with numerous abused sisters, I corrected myself. I would have performed the hideous procedure and kept it going. Just as they had to do.

Strip searches of women are psychologically damaging. Repeated searches have a devastating impact on the psyche of women. As previously reported, a majority of the incarcerated women enter in a physically and mentally damaged state due to sexual and physical abuses they have survived. To burden them with the additional ravages of multiple strip searches is cruel. There must be other methods of searching for contraband.

A former prisoner describes her Strip Search experience:

After your clothing is scanned in its entirety, they commence to the body. You’re asked to open your mouth wide, and lift your tongue moving it around to be sure you're not hiding anything inside the mouth, while they scan with a flashlight. They check all around in your hair, asking you to take it down if it happens to be up in a bun. They check behind and in the ears.

Although this doesn’t pertain to me, thank God. Larger women are asked to lift sagging breasts to insure you’ve hidden nothing under them. Same is said and done at the waist: inmate is asked to lift layers, or rolls of fat for hidden items, as dope can be stashed quite neatly there, I’ve been told. They also check your belly button for any illegal items too.

Next you're asked to face cops and spread open your vagina (I hate that word. I prefer pussy:), so the CO can examine it carefully with once again, a flashlight, told to squat down with your legs open and cough, a deep cough, three times. The reason for this is if you may have anything stashed up there in the “safe,” that a deep, hearty cough could dislodge it.(that’s where good strong kegel muscles come in handy).

Next you’re asked to turn around with your back to them, told to bend over and spread your butt cheeks so they can get a good view of your fanny as well. As you're bending over and spreading your cheeks, you’re told to once again, cough, a harsh, deep-resonating cough…like you're trying to cough up a bunch of phlegm deep inside your chest.

This fun little show, of sorts, ends with the cop examining your feet, carefully inspecting each “this little piggy went to market.”

One afternoon the FCI Camp inmates were in an uproar. Being new, it was a challenge for me to understand if they were upset or happy. However many more than usual women were congregating out in the open, in the main common areas of the prison.

Finally the officers announced a town meeting. Everyone was surprised and nervous, because town hall meetings were usually planned in advance to report new rules, or upcoming events, not impulsively executed, like that day. However, that town hall was an exception.

The officers announced that in the main FCI, one of the inmates was caught having sex with her girlfriend, using a dildo. As a chastisement the inmate was forced to promenade naked across the stage ostentatiously flaunting her fabricated dildo. This forced performance was carried out in front of everyone, including male officers.
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