Category:
Prisons

Miss KGB and Miss Gulag

Some oddball beauty titles from Russia.

In 1990, 23-year-old Katya Mayorova was crowned 'Miss KGB'. It was part of an effort to put a softer face on the intelligence service. It doesn't seem that there was a competition to select the winner. Mayorova was simply selected by a secret process. As far as I know, she was the only one to ever hold the title.

The Montreal Gazette - Nov 4, 1990
click to enlarge







You can find more info about Miss KGB at Russia Beyond.

And from a totally different part of the Russian security apparatus, many women's prisons in Russia now hold beauty pageants. The winners aren't called 'Miss Gulag,' but that was the title of a documentary about the pageants. More info from Jean Trounstine, "Beauty Pageants in Prison Can Have Positive Effects," in At Issue: Beauty Pageants (2010).

The first prison beauty pageant in Siberia took place in 2000, the brainchild of an inmate. It began simply, with costumes created from everyday objects such as plastic bags and fake flowers. These days, the women work together for months before the pageant, which is hardly the competitive, individualistic event implied by the word "contest.". . .

As a woman who grew up in the sixties, I used to consider endorsing any sort of beauty contest inconceivable—but that was before I saw two short documentaries about the pageants at Camp UF-91/9, The Contest, produced by the Polish journalist Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, and Miss Gulag, produced by Neihausen-Yatskova and Vodar Films. They show the contenders taking the runway by storm, cheered on by their peers, in a parody of the stale rigidity and lack of sexuality of traditional pageants. . .

Beauty pageants are now widespread in Russian prisons. Make up, gifts for the unit, and credits toward early release are the prizes.



The Contest documentary: part 1, part 2, part 3

Posted By: Alex - Wed Aug 10, 2022 - Comments (1)
Category: Awards, Prizes, Competitions and Contests, Prisons, Spies and Intelligence Services, Russia

The Prison Bra Rule

In 1975, Scharlette Holdman, executive director of Hawaii's ACLU, tried to visit a prisoner in an all-male Hawaiian prison, at the prisoner's request. While being searched it was discovered that she wasn't wearing a bra, and so she was denied entry. She sued, and the case went to the Hawaiian Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the prison. As a result, it remains the rule that all female visitors to Hawaiian prisons must wear bras, whether or not the lack of a bra is evident.

The case: Holdman v. Olim (1978)

More info from Dressing Constitutionally by Ruthann Robson:

Scharlette Holdman, then director of the Hawai'i ACLU, sought entry to a prison and was searched by a matron who discovered Holdman was not wearing a bra. The matron denied Holdman entry, relying upon a directive that required visitors to be 'properly dressed,' 'fully clothed including undergarments,' and stated 'provocative attire is discouraged.' Holdman's challenge stressed equal protection, under both the United States and Hawai'i state constitutions, arguing that the requirement that women wear bras while men need not constituted sex discrimination. Writing in 1978, the Hawai'i Supreme Court expressed some consternation about the slight record, but relying in part on deference to prison officials, the court found that dress standards are 'intimately related to sexual attitudes' and 'the omission of a brassiere as a conventional article of women's clothing' has been 'regarded as sexually provocative by some members of society.' ... The fact that Scharlette Holdman's lack of a bra became evident only upon a tactile search was irrelevant: the prison could still find it would be sexually provocative to the male inmates.

Honolulu Advertiser - Feb 3, 1975

Posted By: Alex - Sat Jun 11, 2022 - Comments (2)
Category: Prisons, Underwear, 1970s

Frank P. Reese, light-bulb eater

When they say that the food in prison is awful, I guess that depends on what you like to eat.

Detroit Free Press - Mar 26, 1972



El Paso Times - Mar 25, 1972



Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin - Mar 25, 1972

Posted By: Alex - Sun Mar 06, 2022 - Comments (2)
Category: Food, Prisons, 1970s

Inmate seeks transfer

Specifically, he wanted to be transferred to a woman's prison so that he could "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth."

He must have figured it didn't hurt to ask.

Miami News - Nov 10, 1971

Posted By: Alex - Sat Nov 06, 2021 - Comments ()
Category: Prisons, Gender, 1970s

Death by playing cards

Oct 20, 1930: Convict William Kogut, who was waiting execution on San Quentin's death row, somehow knew that it was possible to make a bomb out of playing cards. This was because, at the time, the red ink of cards contained nitrocellulose. So by scraping off enough of the red ink, Kogut was able to make a pipe bomb out of a hollow bedpost. He used this to kill himself, rather than letting himself be executed.

Modern playing cards no longer contain this explosive ingredient.

Somewhat confusingly, Snopes classifies his death as a "legend," even though their brief write-up seems to confirm that it happened exactly as described.

More info: theatrefx.com

Oroville Mercury Register - Oct 20, 1930


Posted By: Alex - Wed Jun 23, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Death, Suicide, Prisons, 1930s

Cockroach trained to carry cigarettes

1938: Prisoners in solitary confinement in Amarillo, Texas figured out how to get cigarettes by training a cockroach to carry them under the cell door.

Salt Lake Tribune - Mar 2, 1938



Klamath News - Apr 9, 1938

Posted By: Alex - Mon Aug 17, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Prisons, Smoking and Tobacco, 1930s

Prisoners who escape a day before release

The recurring weird news theme of prisoners who escape from jail a day before they're set to be released. Usually the escape isn't anything too complicated. They're on a minimum-security work detail, from which they simply walk away. But still, why leave if all you have to do is wait a day and be legally free? Because if caught again, they're looking at years of new imprisonment.

Three examples below, though I'm sure there must be more. Worth noting: I didn't find any follow-up stories mentioning their capture. So maybe they all got away with that one extra day of freedom.

McComb Enterprise-Journal - Mar 11, 1990



An inmate from the Shelby County Detention Center working at the state highway garage grabbed a truck and took off Wednesday – the day before he was scheduled to be paroled. Police are looking for Andrew Joseph Wilson, 21, who escaped from work detail in Shelby County Wednesday. Andrew Joseph Wilson, 21, of Richmond escaped while on work release Wednesday by stealing a vehicle that was found ditched in Anderson County.
- Sentinel News - Dec 13, 2013


The Massachusetts Department of Corrections is searching for Barthesday Deberry who escaped Tuesday morning after walking away from a work detail near Boston. Deberry was scheduled to be released on Wednesday (TOMORROW!!!!) after serving five years on a fire arms conviction.
-Newport Buzz - Mar 1, 2016

Posted By: Alex - Mon Jan 08, 2018 - Comments (2)
Category: Prisons

Coed Prisons

I hadn't realized that federal and state governments had, for a while, experimented with coed prisons. From Prison Journal, 59(1), Spring/Summer 1979:

Since 1971, over 20 coed state and federal facilities have been established, although over half have since reverted back to one-sex institutions out of conceptual failure and dilemmas of operation, implementation, and evaluation. Currently (1979), 10 adult coed prisons exist in the united states. Ethnographic research into coed prisons includes seven studies since 1973 focusing on sex roles and the overall prison environment. Two of the studies reveal a lack of predatory homosexuality in coed prisons, while other studies find sexual discrimination in such institutions. Overall, the ethnographic literature yields few findings which support the effectiveness of coed prisons. Recidivism research, another type of cocorrections research, has been utilized in a number of studies to indicate a reduction of criminal activity. One study suggests that females may not profit as much as males from the correctional environment. Other vague and unsophisticated recidivism studies show success for releasees from coed prison. Although the available recidivism data on cocorrections suggest that incarceration in a coed institution has the potential of reducing adjustment problems on release, data do not convincingly demonstrate the effect of the coed experience on postrelease behavior or an overall reduction in the crime rate.


I'm having difficulty finding out if there still are any coed prisons in the US. I'm guessing there aren't.

Hattiesburg American - Aug 27, 1974

Posted By: Alex - Sat Nov 18, 2017 - Comments (2)
Category: Prisons, 1970s

Pinky Bonded

Rachel Deckert was supposed to turn herself in at the Lewis County Jail on an outstanding misdemeanor warrant. She did. Problem was, she was pinky bonded to her girlfriend, and they couldn't separate. As a form of couples therapy the two had used epoxy to glue their pinky fingers together inside a copper pipe.

Said Detective Patty Finch, "They haven’t been able to feel their fingers for three days."

Not clear how the two will be unattached. Pinky amputation is a possibility.

More info: The Chronicle

Posted By: Alex - Wed Nov 01, 2017 - Comments (11)
Category: Prisons, Couples

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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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