published I978 - revised
"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?
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.
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").
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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
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.