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“Feeling Cute” Social Media Challenge Reveals Brutality of Prison Guards

by Matt Clarke

The “Feeling Cute” social media challenge went viral in the spring of 2019, with photos tagged #FeelingCuteChallenge showing people in their work clothes, declaring they are “feeling cute” as they make a joke about their jobs. The statements were a variation of an online meme known as “feeling cute, might delete later.”

It was all harmless fun when teachers, postal workers, firefighters and law enforcement officers first took up the challenge. But then darker posts started to appear. A water works employee said he “might cut off your water later.” Police officers posted about arresting people and pulling drivers “over for tint.” Some prison guards on the now-private 30,000-member Correctional Officer Life Facebook group made even darker comments, including:

• “Feeling cute, might shoot your baby daddy today ... idk.” 

• “Feeling cute, might take your homeboy to the hole later.” 

• “Feeling cute, I’m still going to lock you down.”

• “Feeling cute, might just gas some inmates today, IDK.” 

• “Feeling cute, might put your baby daddy in the shower for 6 hours, since we ain’t got no beds.” 

Apparently, some of the guards thought that including an abbreviated “I don’t know” (idk) in their post would excuse the outrageous statements they made. They soon learned they were wrong, however, and their uniforms easily identified them as prison staff from several states, including Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Several of those guards are now under investigation, have resigned, or are being disciplined or fired for their participation in the “feeling cute” challenge.

“Beyond the extremely poor judgment shown by these officers, being flippant about mistreating inmates, even if it’s intended as a joke, puts these staff and their fellow officers at risk,” said Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesman Matthew Elliot, who noted prison staff in that state who posted inappropriate comments had been disciplined. “This is no laughing matter.” 

Commenting on a Mississippi guard’s post that she might “search your homeboy’s cell and step on all his noodles,” Jody Owens with the Southern Poverty Law Center said the posts drew attention to the harsh reality that prisoners are “a vulnerable population at the whim of whatever [guards] choose to do to them.”

He added, “And far too often throughout the country we’ve seen instances where people’s possessions, cells are just pillaged, through boredom or any insignificant reason, and it’s no joking matter.”

Several posts were made by uniformed prison guards in Arkansas. One wrote, “Feeling cute, might take your girl to seg later, idk.” Another, a female guard whose photo appeared to show the badge of the Miller County Sheriff’s Office, posted she was “feeling cute........ might lock their asses down today I dont know [sic].”

Miller County Sheriff Jackie Runion said he was unaware of the post until he was asked about it in late April 2019. He then spoke with his jail captain, who “talked to that young lady,” adding the post “was taken down.” Runion also said the woman was still employed by the sheriff’s office.

Arkansas prison system spokesman Solomon Graves said that as soon as the DOC was notified about the inappropriate comments, its employees were ordered to stop because DOC policy prohibits staff members from referring to prisoners in online postings. Violators risk “disciplinary action up to, and including, termination,” Graves stated, though he admitted no Arkansas DOC guards were fired.

“It’s obviously inappropriate,” said state Senator Joyce Elliott, former chairman of a legislative subcommittee overseeing the DOC, who sponsored an unsuccessful bill during the most recent session that called for an outside audit of the department. “I would like to think that this is not the kind of judgment that spills over into their ability to do their jobs.”

The story of prison guards taking up the #FeelingCuteChallenge was first reported on April 16, 2019 by Keri Blakinger, a former prisoner who now works for the Houston Chronicle. She found posts by guards from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), in which they joked about “gassing” prisoners. Of six guards investigated by the TDCJ, four were fired and two resigned. Officials in Georgia and Missouri are also investigating social media posts made by prison employees.

“Hope they’re still ‘Feeling Cute’ on the Unemployment Line,” one Facebook user posted in response to the investigations. 

Four guards with the Florida DOC posted comments about committing violent or abusive acts against prisoners, accompanied by photos of themselves in uniform. The posts included:

• “Feeling cute might shoulder lock take down your prison husband...idk,” wrote guard Keora Smith.

• “Feeling cute.. might toss your baby daddy’s locker!” wrote guard Steph Barber, employing prison slang for searching a prisoner’s locker of personal items.

• “… also may put one on property restriction/privilege suspension while I’m at it...,” added guard Eddie Kosiorek.

• Guard Corey Dorman posted a selfie taken with a rifle, captioned, “Feelin cute.. might shoot to stop later..IDK.”

A spokesperson for Florida DOC Director Mark Inch said he disapproved of the Facebook posts because, “as public servants, our officers and staff must be held to the highest standards of ethical behavior both on- and off-duty.”

“My expectation of our officers is to ensure public safety and uphold public trust,” he added. “These social media posts are against the core values of our profession and will not be tolerated.”

Just hours before the statement from Inch’s office, Florida DOC attorney Eric Giunta resigned after racist comments he had made on Facebook surfaced, claiming that African-Americans display a tendency toward “raping, murdering, vandalizing” and “having children out of wedlock.” [See article on p.43].

Four Arizona prison or sheriff’s employees also made #FeelingCuteChallenge posts, including one who joked about “pepper spraying” someone’s “baby daddy.” An employee of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office posted that he might “flip a U-turn and ride your bumper for 5 miles later just to freak you out later, IDK.” The Arizona DOC said two guards had been disciplined for inappropriate online comments. 

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Sources: reason.com, mississippitoday.org, theroot.com, washingtonpost.com, miaminewtimes.com, arkansasonline.com