Much of the national debate over cruel and unusual punishment has centered on the death penalty, but the debate may be in for a paradigm shift. What about the ban of Q-tips from the Montana State Prison? Cruel? Probably not. Unusual? Definitely.
No one ever said that prison life was easy, or clean, but inmate Jason Bear believes the memo he, fellow inmates and prison staff received informing them of the Q-tip ban goes too far. Written by Security Major Tom Wood and distributed on July 2, the memo reads in part: “After consultations with medical personnel, it was determined that [Q-tips] are not a required hygiene item. On numerous occasions, dangerous contraband had been found secreted in the item.”
Bear, who contacted the Independent via mail, believes it’s absurd that tax dollars fund an institution with such “trivial” rules. In response to Wood’s memo, Bear composed a sardonic manifesto on the policy.
“For years now we have known the evil empire that is Q-tip manufacturing, although we were all afraid to speak up,” writes Bear. “We all lived in fear, speaking only behind closed doors. Well, now we have a leader in Mr. Wood.”
But prison Public Information Officer Linda Moodry believes Bear’s sarcasm ignores the primary reason for the ban. Yes, it’s true that medical personnel at the prison have concluded that inmates don’t need Q-tips—“you’re not supposed to be sticking things in your ears,” she says. But in this case, hygiene also takes a back seat to prison rules.
Q-tips are hollow, and a perfect place to hide things—most commonly needles for tattooing, she says.
“The inmates aren’t allowed to tattoo here,” says Moodry. “But it’s amazing how they want to tattoo and will find ways to hide all sorts of things. At one time, somebody had gotten a Bible in the mail, and the Bible’s inside was cut out so they could put tobacco or marijuana inside it.”
Not quite as classic as an iron file in a cake, but classic nonetheless.
From now on, inmates will be cleaning their ears with good, old-fashioned washcloths, she says. It’s unknown how they’ll now get around the ban on tattooing.