#sagging Coming to prison in 2004 was a culture shock to me. From my job at a university where I rubbed shoulders daily with professors, lecturers and PhD students, I was now in a prison, living amongst gang-members, drug-dealers and thieves.
I had a lot of catching up to do by learning new aspects of life that I hadn’t previously been exposed to. One of these aspects was sagging.
For those unenlightened souls amongst you, sagging is the art of wearing your trousers/pants (Americans, Brits: delete as appropriate please) in a way that defies the laws of gravity.
As one sagger from New York would one day explain to me, “The lower the better.”
Sagging is the art of wearing your trousers in a way that defies the laws of gravity.
It was during my first few days in prison, while still in the UK, that I spotted my first sag. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
The prisoner had lowered his jogging bottoms, exposing his blue, prison-issue boxer shorts for all to see.
Whether people find the sight of sagging pleasant is a matter of taste. But from a purely practical point of view, sagging is a bad idea, especially in prison and on the streets, because it makes you vulnerable.
You can’t fight, run or kick while you are sagging. If you ever square up to a sagger, just pull his trousers down and that will be that.
Anyway, as time passed I saw other saggers, of all races: white, black and Asian. After weeks of living in the midst of saggers, I began to wonder why saggers sag.
To answer this question I set out to objectively research this phenomenon and boldly go where no man, or no non-sagger, had been before.
“Oh, because the prison jogging bottoms are too loose,” one sagger told me. Ever heard of asking for a smaller size? Then I asked another sagger, this time one that was wearing his own trousers, not prison-issue.
“It’s because the prison doesn’t allow belts,” he replied. “They say belts can be used as an offensive weapon.” The irony was not lost on him that showing your posterior to others is also a weapon, a very offensive one at that.
Speaking to other non-saggers also formed part of my field research methodology. One told me that the phenomenon of sagging began in American prisons many moons ago.
Since belts were not allowed in American prisons, prisoners became de-facto saggers. I used to believe this explanation until I myself was extradited to the US in 2012 and spent the next three years in a variety of state and federal detention facilities, prisons and penitentiaries, including one Supermax prison.
I noticed that belts, albeit Velcro ones, are allowed in federal prisons. As for the prisons where they are not allowed, all of the bottoms have drawstrings at the waist. A dead end.
Despite spending eight years in various high-security prisons in the UK, I was no closer to answering the question of why saggers sag. Prisoners were not being honest with me. No-one was able to give me a straight answer.
Until, a few months before my release last year, I met a prisoner at a federal prison in Pennsylvania. A sagging connoisseur from Boston, Massachusetts, he had been sagging since he was a teenager.
He was now in his mid-30s. And still sagging. I asked him why saggers sag.
“Because [female dogs] like it,” he replied. To be clear, he wasn’t referring to four-legged canines (although I doubt whether even four-legged canines would find a sight like that attractive).
I jumped for joy. I had spent 11 years travelling thousands of miles in both Britain and the United States to find the answer to this question.
“Because [female dogs] like it.”
This honest sagger told me that the reason saggers sag is not because their trousers are too loose, or because global warming has caused a shortage of cows in the world, leading to a shortage of leather belts.
They sag wilfully, because they think that certain types of women find it attractive.
I spent the next few months observing the saggers at that federal prison. All would spend a long time every day adjusting their Velcro belts to ensure that they left the prison cells for the day appropriately dressed. And appropriately sagged. My research discovered five types of sag:
The first type of sag is the Respectable Sag, which is when your shirt is tucked into your trousers and everything looks neat from the outside but upon close inspection you see that the trousers are worn low on the hips.
I once spotted a Respectable Sag at 6am in the morning on my way to the prison food hall for breakfast. Even though it was early and dark and he had just woken up, the prisoner had not forgotten to respectably sag. He was 40 years old.
The Boxer Sag is the second type of sag. As its name suggests, it is when – by design not accident – your boxer shorts from behind are on full display for the whole world to see, a bit like the full moon on a cloudless night.
Then there is the Double-Boxer Sag, when you sag your trousers, then above their waistline you sag a pair of gym shorts, then above the gym shorts you sag the boxer shorts – in other words, imagine a three-layer cascaded wedding cake (which neither looks, or tastes, very nice).
The fourth type is the Prayer Sag. One day I observed a Muslim prisoner pray in the corner of the gymnasium by himself. When he went down into prostration, he made sure that his gym shorts were exposed in a full sag.
A highly commendable act given that even while he was offering prayers to his Lord he didn’t forget the important obligation of sagging. If it wasn’t for people like him, sagging would have become extinct a long time ago. Bravo.
And the final type of sag is the Anti-Gravity Sag, which is when the trousers are so low that physicists are left scratching their heads wondering why the laws of gravity do not apply to those trousers.
The world record for the best Anti-Gravity Sag in the world was broken in Woodhill Prison in the UK in 2005. I’m proud to say that I was there to eyewitness the historic event in person.
The Albanian prisoner’s jeans were (I’m not joking) half-way between his hips and his knees. His trousers were one twitch away from disaster but somehow they managed to stay up. Awesome.
His trousers were one twitch away from disaster but somehow they managed to stay up.
One morning last year I was walking to the prison food hall for breakfast at 6am. It was dark and the full moon was still visible. The prison had just woken up and everyone was in a daze. All of a sudden, ahead of me I spotted a Boxer Sag.
I carried on walking. Then I noticed a Respectable Sag. Then an Anti-Gravity Sag. I couldn’t believe it. I looked behind me and there was a Double Boxer Sag. I stopped and looked around. Wheresoever I looked there was a sag. It was such a great moment that Winston Churchill’s words came to mind:
“Never before in the history of mankind has so much been owed by so many to so few.” I immediately corrected myself: “Nay. Never before in the history of sagging have so many sags been sagged by so many saggers in such a short space of time.”
It is at times like this that saggers find their mission and their moment. It is upon the waists of such saggers that fashions are established, boxer shorts are brought to life and sagging is made victorious… Sorry, I got carried away there.
One day I asked myself that instead of going through all the hassles of sagging, wouldn’t it be better if a sagger just took his trousers off altogether and put himself, and others, out of their misery?
It appears that someone else also had the same idea. I think I may have discovered the King of Saggers in this six second video clip.
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