There’s something about the power of euphemism: you call someone a “prisoner” or an “inmate” and, suddenly, all sorts of dehumanizing, terrible, violent things that would be unfathomable to subject a “regular” person to become possible. Become necessary. You call someone a police officer, guard, or a “corrections officer,” and suddenly the power to humiliate and terrorize someone on a daily basis—to perform acts psychologists have described as torture—become just a list of tasks to cross off a list.
Or joke about.
This week, corrections officers across the country are facing a public backlash after participating in the #FeelingCute challenge, a spin-off of the oft-used “feeling cute, might delete later” caption that typically accompanies selfies.
The #FeelingCute challenge is essentially a goofy, workplace version of that caption. To give you a sense of the kind of irreverence associated with meme, peep UPS man Courtney Muse, who’s credited with starting the challenge.
Posing in a field of blue bonnets, Muse captions his selfie with “feeling cute, might deliver your package later, IDK.”
Enter corrections officers, who took similarly innocent and playful photos—in the bathroom mirror, in the driver’s seat of their cars, with filters and their heads tilted just-so—paired with captions making light of the worst aspects of our prison system.
“Feeling cute, might just gas some inmates today, IDK,” read one post, according to the Houston Chronicle.
According to the Chronicle, many photos were shared in a now-private Facebook group called “Correctional Officer Life,” comprising 3,000 members.
The website America’s Police Problem, which focuses on law enforcement accountability, compiled screenshots of the various police and corrections officers’ posts and published them on Sunday.
In the captions, corrections officers joked about putting inmates in solitary confinement, shooting them, destroying their cells, or just not doing their jobs:
“Feeling cute, might take your baby daddy to the box later,” read one selfie from a woman corrections officer, referring to solitary confinement.
“Feeling cute, might make all 5 of my rounds tonight, and then again I might not, probably only do 4,” wrote another female guard.
“Feeling cute, might put your baby daddy in the shower for 6 hours, since we ain’t got no beds,” read one post accompanying a driving selfie.
“Feeling cute, might shoot to stop later ... IDK.”
“Feeling cute, might shoot your baby daddy today.”
According to the Washington Post, corrections officers from Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Missouri were identified in the posts. Prison officials have responded to both the Post and the Chronicle saying they’re investigating the matter.
“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is aware of the so-called feel cute challenge currently on social media,” prison spokesman Jeremy Desel told the Chronicle earlier this week. “A handful of correctional officers employed by this agency are under investigation for on and off-duty conduct violations as a result of the alleged posting of inappropriate photographs on social media.”
But while it’s convenient to point the finger at a handful of inept corrections officers, disciplining them, or even firing them, it won’t actually make much of a dent into the larger, more pervasive issue at play here.
Because if we decoct what’s happening in these posts—if we really boil it down—what we see are a group of people tasked with enforcing a system that is fundamentally inhumane. A system that is not concerned with the people it employs nor the people it holds behind bars. It is not concerned with the humanity of the guard nor the prisoner—and we know this because so many have reported on these conditions, and yet so little has changed.
We know that prisoners and their families have talked about prison abuses for years, and no one has listened. But let a few corrections officers show their asses on social media, and suddenly these institutions are concerned with impropriety.
“The families are enraged, this is a ‘gotcha’ moment for them,” Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of Texas Inmate Families Association told the Chronicle. “So many times they have reported these types of incidents in these memes only to be told that there was no evidence.”