Memo to: D.C. Jail Officials

(Eric Shansby)

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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, September 9, 2007

According to news reports, you recently fired several employees of the D.C. jail for erroneously placing a new female inmate into the male prison population, even after the inmate had loudly protested that she was a woman. As you may be aware, I am something of an expert on the subject of gender distinctions, having written a book with Gina Barreca on this very subject. In the interest of preventing this kind of needless embarrassment in the future, Gina and I thought we'd share with you some sex-identification tests you might employ:

1) Determine the inmate's name. In our professional experience, women frequently have women's names. Your inmate, for example, was named "Virginia," a name often associated with women. Other examples: Sonia, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Arlene.

2) Obtain some furry spiders, the kind with googly eyes on stalks and little, slimy pincer mouths. These insects can be an effective gender-typing

diagnostic tool when dropped on the target inmate's lap from above. Eels will also work.

3) Offer the inmate a choice of two prison jumpsuits of identical size and design. One is labeled "XXL," and the other is labeled "Petite." The inmate's choice correlates to actual gender nearly 100 percent of the time.

4) Ask the inmate the color of the jumpsuit. Any answer other than "orange" indicates likelihood that she is female (e.g., "salmon-tangerine").

5) There is a very high likelihood the inmate is female if, before getting on a scale at weigh-in, the inmate asks everyone else in the room to "turn around."

6) Take the inmate's fingerprints. Do not wash off ink. Allow two hours to pass. A male prisoner's fingers will still be stained. A woman will have removed the ink by whatever means necessary, including water from the toilet, her teeth, abrasion from floor cement, etc.

7) As required by jail policy, provide privacy for donation of urine sample. But instead of a cup, give the inmate a small test tube, like those used for perfume samples. Inmate's reaction should be clue enough.

8) Mail the inmate a birthday cake with a file inside. If the inmate finds it but uses it as a nail file, it's highly likely that she is female.

9) Show the inmate a porn video. When it's over, administer a three-question exam. Only women will score 100 percent:

a) Was there a sex act depicted?


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