Incarceration is no laughing matter


Photo from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Flickr account, Oct. 3.

Bethanie Gengler, News Editor

Photos on the UW Oshkosh Flickr page from last week’s Run With The Cops event appear to show UWO students and children dressed in prison stripes standing behind a fake jail cell smiling and laughing while being handcuffed by a police officer.

As a UWO student who has spent time at the Winnebago County Jail, I was shocked to see these images. This is not a laughing matter.

The Run With The Cops event was organized to raise money for The Special Olympics of Wisconsin, but how does dressing in prison uniforms and making fun of those who have been incarcerated help people with special needs? What message does this send the Oshkosh community about incarceration?

The University Police should be well aware of the horrors of being locked up, and I was stunned at how they didn’t seem to take it seriously. Dressing up as cops I understand, but inmates?

UWO students and UP, there is one thing I want you to understand: incarceration at the Winnebago County Jail is hell.

If you truly want to experience incarceration, let’s start by unlocking the handcuffs, stripping you naked and making you bend over to expose your genitals, spread your buttocks and lift your breasts and hair to ensure you aren’t hiding contraband. Let’s see who’s smiling then.

Next, let’s give you an old stretched-out sports bra along with some used sh*t-stained panties. We’ll top it all off with a blaze orange jumpsuit to differentiate you from the other inmates since you’re new.

Oh, you came in at night and there’s no toilet paper in your cell? Didn’t you know you have to ask for that? Too bad, I guess you’ll have to go without it until morning or use your washcloth.

You’ll hear things like, “You’re sweet and innocent, they’re going to rape you with a hot curling iron.”

Inmates have a very hard time finding a job, especially convicted felons; their job application is automatically pushed to the bottom of the pile. They become shunned by society for the rest of their lives, even if the crime was nonviolent.

A person who has been released from incarceration has a difficult time adjusting to society.

When our community members joke and laugh about the hardships inmates face, it sends a strong message to those who were incarcerated: you are a joke, you are not wanted, you are not welcome and no matter how much time passes, you will never be an accepted member of society.

UP and Oshkosh community: the next time you want to laugh and make jokes about our inmates and criminal justice system, I suggest you spend a few days as an inmate at the Winnebago County Jail and see if you’re still laughing when you leave.