A shirtless man covers his face in embarrassment.
Credit: Darius Bashar / Unsplash

“Take your clothes off!” Sweaty commanded. That’s the nickname I gave the officer — it suited him. He looked like a perpetual perspiring soda machine stuffed into a uniform. 

“I said strip!” he commanded again, taking a deep breath. “Now!” 

“Well,” I thought to myself, “I guess this is the way it has to be.” 

There were three of us in the “search tank,” two others and me. Let’s call them Bob and Billy. As Billy and I uncomfortably undressed, Sweaty started to swear, repeating again, 

“You take your clothes off!”

“No,” Bob refused. “This is humiliating and degrading.”

Bob looked to Billy and me for support and received none. We continued undressing.

Sweaty stared down Bob with a deep intensity, then returned his gaze to us.

“Hands up! Wiggle those fingers. Good. Let me see your armpits. All right. Flick them ears. Perfect. Now say, ‘Ahhh.’ Good.”

Then he pointed to my center — that center.  

“Lift,” he said. “Nice.” 

He went on, “Turn around. Left foot wiggle. Now your right. Good. Now squat and give me a big cough — great!” 

Sweaty then handed us jail-issued clothes and instructed us to dress. 

As Bill and I left Bob, I whispered to him, “Good luck.” 

I never did see Bob after that. But I always think about that first time I had to strip. Even now, nine years inside and countless strip searches later, I wish I had supported Bob. 

Despite the humiliation of every strip search, there’s nothing we can do. We are helpless.

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Gregg Leauanae

Gregg Leauanae is a writer incarcerated in California.