Inmate’s Earwax Removal: The Five Step Process

Where I grew up, there used to be a county jail, where they had developed and perfected a procedure for the removal of the earwax from inmates. Inmates are not allowed to possess nail files, clippers, razor blades, or any sharp metal objects. For this reason, prison officials and the guards have the duty to maintain the cleanliness of inmates’ ears, and keep them free from any wax buildup. The first question one might ask is, ‘how would prison officials and guards know an inmate has excessive buildup of earwax’? The answer is simple. Every evening when conducting the roll call for checking prisoners, and making sure no one has escaped, an inmates’ number is read out. When your number is called out, you better respond by shouting back your full name immediately. If they have to call the number twice, because you were too slow to respond, or if you misheard and responded when someone else’s number is called out, they know that you must be suffering from ears stuffed with excessive wax. That is how they can tell. And their diagnosis is – earwax buildup! The prison guards and prison officials then have the sacred and sworn duty to remove that wax buildup immediately by every means possible.

Prisoners suffering from excessive wax buildup are taken aside and made to form a new line. At the end of roll call, inmates with clean ears are led into their cells for the night, while the unfortunate ones with excessive earwax, are marched out for the removal process. The first step consists with the official asking the inmate, “How come you have not been washing and cleaning your ears regularly?” The inmate would often protest that he has been washing every morning and that he does not have any wax in his ears. “No wax in your ears? Let us be the judges for that. How come then, you did not hear when your number was called out?” The official would then command a prison guard to inspect the ears of the inmate and look for any sign of wax buildup. The guard takes one look in the inmate’s ear, and says, “Totally dark, Sir. I can’t see anything. It must be stuffed with wax.” The official then asks the guard, “Could you please, help remove some of it?” That is a green light for the guard to administer the first step in the removal process. With all the might he can muster, the guard gives three sharp, crisp, lightening-like, ‘open handed slaps’ on the right ear and then three more slaps on the left ear of the inmate. Experienced guards know exactly where, and how to strike. One of these infamous guards known for ‘cleaning’ inmates’ ears for many years, is the notorious one-eyed, Sergeant Auraris. Aurais barely touches an inmate’s face or cheeks, and the whole impact of the slaps often falls on the inmate’s ears with a deafening blow. This first step often helps loosen, and is even known on some rare occasions, to remove all the wax from the ears of inmates. For most cases, however, a second, a third, a fourth, and even a fifth step might be necessary.

After the slaps are administered the prison official would ask the inmate, “Do you hear me better now?” The inmate now needs lip-reading skill, and better keep his eyes fixed at the lips of the official, for by now, there would be very little the inmate could hear. And the only correct answer, (no matter what the question might be), is to bark out, as quickly as possible, “Yes Sir!” But that does not solve anything. The official would ask Sergeant Auraris to again check the ears of the inmate and see if any wax might still be left there. If the inmate has ever rubbed the guard the wrong way, now is the time to settle old scores. The guard would again carefully examine inside the inmate’s ears and respond: “Sir, it is still totally dark. I don’t think the wax has even budged.” Many prisoners make fun about the fact that Sergeant Auraris is blind in one eye. How could he tell? But that is beside the point. Auraris’ one eye blindness not withstanding, they would proceed to the second step process. The inmate’s fate is totally at the hands of notorious prison guards like Sergeant Auraris. They are among the most hated in the prison system.

The second process consists in having the inmate kneel on the floor with his head tilted to one side while three drops of red, and then three more drops of green, smoked, fermented chilly souse are instilled into the ear. This fermented chilly souse, which is extremely potent, is especially prepared for this very purpose, and is kept bottled at the prison official’s desk. The inmate is ordered to maintain the tilted position of the head for about five minutes ‘for the chilly to soak through into the wax and begin to work.’ The process is then repeated with the same number of drops being applied to the other ear. This is only the first half of the second process. The second half is administered about fifteen minutes later, by squirting water from a hose at full force into each ear “to flush out the wax.” This was no ordinary garden hose. They have a water hydrant with the same force as that used by the fire department to extinguish fires, or the riot police to break up a mob. The inmate is knocked on the ground by the force of the water and rolls across the field like an empty soda can. At the end of this treatment the official would ask the inmate, ‘Can you hear me any better now?” The inmate would again bark, “Yes Sir!” The official would then ask the prison guard, “Can you please, check and see the wax?” The guard would again inspect each ear, and after a careful examination respond: “It has hardly budged, Sir. There appears to be a mountain of wax lodged in there. I would even say one needs a crowbar to remove this stuff.” And the unfortunate inmate would be subjected to further punishment and humiliation.

The third step is quicker and sharper than the first two. They kneel the inmate down and placing a gun, usually a colt .45, or a Magnum, an inch or so from the ears, shoot at least two or three rounds. This is done to both ears. By this time any sense of hearing left in the ears is totally destroyed, and the inmate, if he survives this far into the treatment, would not be able to hear any sound for several days to come. And even when hearing returns, it might only come as garbled, incoherent noise for a few days. At this stage the inmate is thoroughly wet and socked to the bones, totally covered in mud and dirt, shaking and trembling from cold and fear, disoriented, and in a semi-state of shock. When the official asks, “Can you hear me any better now?” some have been known to reply, “Why don’t you just shoot me in the head and get it over with!” But that would be the last thing in the world the prison official would have in his mind. A response like that merely indicates to the official that the game was just beginning to become interesting. Every cat becomes ecstatic when the half-dead mouse tries to wriggle away, or even better, shows any signs of life or of fighting back. This was not much different from that.

Then comes the step known as the ‘sticky mess process’. They have large bubble gums that the guard would chew for a few minutes until it turns soft and sticky. They would explain to the inmate that they would need to put the gum into his ears so it can stick to the wax and help pull it out. They stuff the inmate’s ears with the wax, and leave it there for some time, as they are in no hurry. The inmate is then ordered to remove the wax. Inmates cannot use any tools so the poor wretch needs to use his fingers or any twig he can find in the shrubs near by. The inmate would stick his index finger or pinky, and try to remove the chewing gums. The body temperature inside the ears is just perfect for keeping the gum at its semi-melted and most sticky state. The gum would stick to his hands, his face, his clothes, and everywhere it comes in contact with. His face would be totally smeared with bubble gum, and it would be one lucky inmate that can remove even half of the gums. A good half of the chewing gum would still be left inside each ear. And that is exactly how they had wanted it to be all along, - one hell of a sticky mess!

Finally, they get to the fifth and final step. The inmate’s arms are crossed and handcuffed, wrists in front, resting on the lap, and he is laid in a fetal position in an oil barrel. The official goes to a lengthy and detailed explanation, “Inmate number …so and so, we have been forced to arrive at the undeniable conclusion that your cochlea must be dirty.” What, in heaven’s name, is that? “Cochlea are three semi-circular coiled organs deep in each of your ear. And wax that deep can’t come out without this next treatment.” They lay the barrel at the top of a gentle slope in the prison playgrounds. It has the distance of a hundred yards with a gradient of about ten feet. They push the barrel down this slope and watch as the inmate tumbles along like rugs in a clothes drier. At the end of the slope the barrel hits a wooden garden fence and comes to a stop. They would push it up, with the inmate still inside, and bring it back to the top of the hill. This is repeated three times in one direction, say with the head leading the tumble, and then the barrel is turned around so that for the next three runs the tumble would start with the inmate’s feet first. Each run is for each cochlea. At the end of six rounds the inmate has gone a good twelve hundred yards of tumbling in all, and has long since passed out. They would pull him out of the barrel and take off the handcuffs, but hardly an inmate has ever been known to speak, or open the eyes, leave alone to stand up or walk. In the end, the inmate is taken away to his cell and thrown on his bed to recover from the ordeal.

The five steps are completed, but the inmate’s ordeal is not quite over yet. The finale comes the following day. This must, surely, be the epitome of absolute and utter humiliation. As soon as he comes to his senses, the inmate must walk, crawl on all fours, or even be carried in by friends, to the office to beg the forgiveness of the prison official and the guard, and kneeling on the ground must say, or mumble any way he can:- “Gentlemen, I am very sorry to have given you a very difficult time yesterday. I want to thank you for your kindness in removing the wax from my ears. In future, I promise to be very diligent in washing and cleanliness, and I will pay extra attention to keep my ears clean from any wax buildup.” The guard is then called upon to perform the final inspection. And after a careful examination of the ears, the guard would declare, “The ears, Sir, are now totally free of all wax, and guaranteed to stay clean for at least a year.” And the five-step process is considered a complete success.

G. E. Gorfu.

1998