from the

first published by 'Fetters' 1980



First published I978 - revised into publication
"So I Like To Get Tied-up ... So What!!?"

The image of a "strait-jacket" seems to hold a fascination for a wide variety of people. Most Escape Artists consider it to be a sure-fire crowd puller. Since HARRY HOUDINI first introduced the stunt (or at least so he claims) it has proved to be popular with a lot of people in a lot of places. Where does this fascination lie?

The very existence of a "Regulation" or officially approved straitjacket should, surely, make most people cringe. Why doesn't the suggestion that such a piece of equipment might have been used in real-life situations make the whole idea repugnant? Why do crowds regularly gather to see someone strapped into such a barbaric device? I won't attempt to analyse the reasons - the fact is indisputable: vast numbers of people enjoy seeing such a happening. Just what percentage of the crowd speculates on what it might be like to have it done to them / do it to somebody else / have a shot at escaping .... who knows? The fact remains that being 'interested' in strait-jackets isn't all that unusual. What is a straitjacket? Traditionally it's a reasonably tough fabric garment designed to prevent violent mentally disturbed patients and prisoners from causing harm to themselves and other people.

Straitjackets or strait waistcoats can be anything from a simple smock with closed sleeve ends and tie tapes, to deliberately intimidating constructions of sailcloth, leather straps and metal hardware. The term "Regulation" usually suggests that it is an approved pattern, as used in a particular Institution or by a particular prison authority. In Britain the Home Office, which has responsibility for most Police and Prison furnishing, has at various times in the past approved specifications for several pieces of restraining clothing (although all information on the garments is "strictly classified").

Inevitably, the existence of such equipment has led to it being used as punishment as well as a last resort. In places where such an item would find very little actual use, to have some form of restrainer hanging around serves as a useful threat, to keep would-be troublesome patients in line. Historical records show that many jackets were purposely designed to look tough; extra bands of canvas and leather to suggest additional strength and durability. In reality these may not have been as efficient as a well constructed garment made from light weight pliable rip-proof canvas. Not only more comfortable, these lightweight jackets can be infinitely more confining if correctly cut and sewn - and efficiently applied.

Psychological impact: Seeing someone restrained by / being strapped into / or strapping someone into; this is what we are dealing with here. Whether as a challenge or punishment, this is a situation in which energy and aggression can be worked off harmlessly. Although straitjackets are seldom used now in most European countries - it is still recognised in some circles that the hugging tightness of a well-applied straitjacket has a calming effect on some patients once they have exhausted all attempts to free themselves.

  1. To escape from a straitjacket can be an exhilarating experience for an escaper and anyone watching . Many spectators when watching an Escape Artist probably feel the urge to help strap the would-be escaper. What number of them would, secretly, like to "have a go" at struggling free?

    Escaping from....... :
    Techniques must necessarily vary with the design of jacket and manner in which it is applied. In every instance the main aim should be to gain 'slack' when the garment is strapped on. Every inch counts, particularly in the tightness of the arm straps. Factors affecting escape:
    (A) whether straps or tie tapes are used.
    (B) if canvas is supple enough to use fingers through it.
    (C) if it is possible to work the arms upwards or downwards.
    (D) if armholes are wide enough to work arms out of sleeve by twisting jacket around the body

    Quick release .......
    1. Gain as much slack as possible on arm straps by expanding chest and faking tightness by bracing elbows against sides as jacket is strapped on.
    2. When ready to escape relax all muscles, hunch shoulders forward to bring all available slack to front. Then working systematically, ease buckle of arm-strap upwards until arms can be pulled free over head - or downwards to bring arms under seat
    3 Work at straps or ties with fingers through canvas, or with teeth.

This routine is very much a matter of practice. To improve chances of escape by this method, when jacket is applied the right arm should be crossed over the left (unless you're left-handed), placing right hand on left bleep (that is, if you are allowed to 'get away with it') otherwise under left elbow. It is best to avoid allowing arms to be 'folded'. When trying to work both arms upwards and over the head, brace the elbow against a wall or door-handle. Or kneel down on one knee, using the other as a Pushing Post. The same effect can be accomplished by lying face down on the floor and rolling alternately from one elbow to the other, forcing the elbows closer together to increase slack in mitt straps. The easiest way to escape from a straitjacket is to try and be sure that it is only ever strapped on by someone who has never done it before.

To prevent escape ...
Having studied and experimented with ways to escape from a straitjacket it becomes more easy to devise ways to make escape more difficult.
Jackets used by Escape Artists usually have languish wide sleeves, loose neck-bands and no strap between the legs. (Crotch strap).
A jacket with short, tight sleeves, snug under the armpits presents a much more exacting challenge. A close high collar also adds to the general "cling" - and straps connecting sleeves should be short with holes right up to the end .... and be very strong. The strain in all directions on a well applied jacket can be intense, so all seams should be double sewn.
Additional defences: A crotch strap to prevent the body of the jacket being dragged over the head. Arm straps anchored through one of the back straps to stop arms being worked up or down the body (Jackets with a pair of loops from armpit to hem of the jacket through which sleeves can be passed, effectively prevent arms travelling.). Mitts of heavy material or leather to prevent tampering with buckles through sleeves will defeat many would-be Escape Artists. A small strap added around each wrist before the arms are crossed makes 'slipping' the jacket virtually impossible. Extra reinforcement of seams, elbows and neck will stop any attempts to wear a way out of an otherwise escape-proof jacket - but most important of all is to eliminate 'slack'.

Getting the jacket on: Even with a willing victim, applying a jacket single-handed needs practice. A particular awareness of the various tricks for gaining slack is essential. One way to eliminate stolen slack is, after threading the arm-strap as far as possible, to then stand to one side and brace your body against that of the victim. Using one hand to clamp prisoners elbows together, the back-strap can then be wrenched tighter at the same moment.

Two people applying a jacket can eliminate slack much more easily. As one pulls the arm-strap tight behind, the other can press the victims elbows together at the front. It is amazing how much further arms will reach across the chest with a little persuasion. Two people can also manage to 'fold' a victims arms even against quite violent opposition. The situation of an "unwilling victim" being forced into a straitjacket is a complicated and potentially dangerous undertaking. As a test of ingenuity and stamina it can be fun. In a one-to-one situation it is virtually impossible unless the pair are very unequally matched. With two against one, if a 'routine' has been worked out in advance, it is possible to subdue a victim even if he is prepared to put up a healthy struggle. In any event it's certainly fun to try. Finally, extra defences against a would-be Escapee from any form of canvas restrainer include strapping feet together - threading a strong leather strap or 'pinion strap' set between elbows at the back - or lacing the hapless (helpless) bundle to a bed or short ladder (which must be safely anchored or laid on floor). Imagination, ingenuity and the element of surprise count for much in the field of escapes and the sort of challenges we have been discussing.

An interesting alternative to the crossed-arm straitjacket is a lightweight canvas tube reinforced with webbing straps. This 'smock' is more easy to put on and its image has less direct straitjacket connotations. Arms are not anchored inside this simple shoulder to crotch covering, but makes them unable to inflict damage on the wearer or others, and provides effective control for attendants.
Putting the smock onto a patient is also much simpler than a traditional straitjacket The tube can be slipped over the head with straps pre-threaded. Even the crotch strap at the front is simply hooked to it's counterpart inback and strap can be pulled tighter with one hand.
The patients' arms can be left loose inside the smock or, if required, the wrists can be
attached to hem of smock at thigh level with separate straps. Anchor points for bed-straps can also be added for total immobilisation.