Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

On Pins and Needles

The box of un-returnable thin pins.
I ran out of the pins that I need for Bolillos class.  So, last Friday, I went with my daughter's friend, who was visiting us from the US, to a small sewing shop to buy a box of pins.  I told the woman who worked at the counter that I needed pins for Bolillos. The store had a drawer full of pins that I could pick from. We couldn't exactly tell which ones were the right ones, so we took our best guess.

On Saturday, I took the new pins to class.  Turns out they are too thin for Bolillos.  On Monday, I took the box of thin pins back to the sewing store to exchange them for thicker pins.  The woman who waited on me at the counter was the same woman who helped me on Friday.  She remembered me.  She said hello and then informed me that the pins could not be exchanged or returned.  No exchanges?  Store policy. Pins cannot be returned or exchanged because there is no way to tell if the box is still full or if pins have been removed from the box.

Let me tell you how you can tell whether or not any pins have been removed from the box:  ask me.  I have had this box of pins in my possession for two days.  They were bought for a specific purpose, that was expressed at the time I bought them, and they were not the right ones.  No pins have been removed from the box. The box is full.

What a very sad, sad state of affairs we humans have found ourselves in.  The politicians lie.  The bankers lie.  Now, apparently, we are all thieves.  Storekeepers create policy based on the belief that other people are going to buy boxes of pins, remove some pins, and then try to exchange the incomplete box for another full box. Do people really need pins that badly? Has the economic crisis hit us that hard? Hello, Ms. Shopkeeper?  Can you see me standing in front of you?  The American lady trying to find the correct box of pins for her Bolillos class?

The truly tragic part of all this is that I don't sew and never intend to, so this box of thin pins - something that apparently people are willing to lie and cheat for - will go to waste unless I can find someone in my social network who can use them.

Lucky for me, my race, social and class privilege usually protect me from being accused of being a pin thief.  I have only this small grain of outrage to hold onto, but I will try to keep it burning.  This feeling that I am experiencing is, perhaps, a small inkling of what people of color, young people, formerly incarcerated people, etc., experience on a day-to-day basis as they move through their lives.  Again and again, conversations begin with the presumption they are lying, stealing, generally up to no good. Public policy created based on the actions of the small minority who are returning incomplete boxes of pins when the great majority of folks are just trying to get pins thick enough to hold their Bolillos together.

A sad state of affairs indeed.