Prison Blues

Ayo, Deuce, I got some new blues for you.”

It’s A.D., the housing laundry porter, calling out to me in the dayroom. He is referring to a prison uniform. In particular, a pair of blue Red Kap pants, highly prized because although they are allowed, they are no longer distributed among the prison population. Inmates prefer them because they stand out among the more common state-issued “greens” given to all inmates when they first arrive in the system. By comparison, the “blues” resemble street clothing or a working man’s uniform.

Obtaining a pair of blues here at Wallkill Correctional Facility is far from easy. There are essentially two ways: either they’re handed down to you by another inmate — probably someone who has been in the facility for some time and received his pair when they were standard issue — or you have to barter for them. Their scarcity is at the heart of their allure.

However, getting your hands on a pair of blues is only half the battle because then you must get them tailored. With so few pairs in circulation, it’s rare to find one in your actual size. Making such alterations is officially prohibited, so in no way are we saying it happens here at Wallkill. Definitely not. No way. Fashion be damned.

If, however, it did happen, it might go down like so: in any giving housing unit, one can find a jailhouse tailor, perhaps an inmate who works in the prison state shop where they have access to a sewing machine. Others use a hand sewing kit, bought from commissary. The average price to have a pair of jeans tailored is a pouch of Top’s tobacco, which goes for $3.54 at the commissary.

“Man, I’m better than the cleaners,” said one such jailhouse tailor, who goes by the name Mr. Natural. Within one week, he said he had custom tailored at least four pairs of blues, spending a day on each.

After receiving my own pair of blues, I asked Mr. Natural to stitch them up for me. He started off by measuring my waist, leg length and width. Then, he took my blues and went to work in his cell, coming back to me shortly thereafter with a pair of skinny jeans just like the ones that everyone is wearing in the streets.

We call them the prison Balmains after the popular French designer. Baggy jeans are all the way out of style, and fitted is trending. If you don’t believe me just look at your jeans from 10 years ago and the last pair you bought.

 

Keith Golden is a former student in the NYU Prison Education Program. This story was approved for publication by an official at Wallkill Correctional Facility.

Email Keith Golden at [email protected]

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1 COMMENT

  1. The Red Kaps appeared after the Clinton escape. Clinton correctional facility is one of the main textile manufacturers for Corcraft (the New York State prison manufacturing company) and where “state greens” (prison uniform green shirts and pants) are made. After the escape the prison was locked down and the industry program (Corcraft) was suspended for some time so the state had to buy prison uniforms for incoming inmates from a vendor. Enter the Red Kaps… More blue-ish than green, and no mom-jean elastic around the waist (like normal state greens) they became coveted by the inmate population. After a few weeks Clinton’s manufacturing started up again, which is why the Red Kaps are so rare…

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