From the dramatization of prison life in Orange is the New Black to the revelation that “artisanal” goodies enjoyed by hipsters and foodies – cage-free eggs, chèvre, even wine – actually rely on prison labor, today’s prison culture is, well, bizarre. And here’s something else to add to the list under the heading “Really????” — the $350 Prison Boot, manufactured by Frye.
Surely, this must just be a cute marketing term – right? No. As the maker of the boot describes, “As for Men’s, the Prison Boot is actually based on the Arkansas prison boots that are issued out to the prisoners, so we remade it and made it a little more comfortable. [Laughing].” Apparently this time, it’s not prison labor (as far as I can tell) that is being expropriated but prison “fashion”. The boots recall the concept of militarization, as developed by Cynthia Enloe, a scholar of the military as a social force. She notes that anything can be militarized: a soup can, groups of people (like mothers), toys (GI Joe!), and more. The mark of a militarized society, Enloe argues, is when the militarization of everyday life, through everyday objects, goes unnoticed and becomes taken-for-granted. In other words, when a child sipping tomato soup no longer thinks to ask why the noodles are shaped like weaponry. The Prison boot (Prisonized boot?) extends Enloe’s analysis and suggests that the military is not uniquely generative: other institutions, like the prison, can also seep into everyday life and fundamentally reshape it.
Unlike Enloe’s tomato soup example, people have been raising questions of the Prison boot: “Prisoners get Frye boots????!!” and “I was thinking the same thing WTF!!” (from Frye’s instagram account last month). Hmm. Perhaps some questions are better left unposed…either way, it’s a subtle reminder that even as calls for decarceration are louder than they’ve been in decades and even as conservatives take on the charge to end mass incarceration, the cultural fallout of the prison is likely to be much longer lasting.