Cherie and Inspector Capo

In the early 1800s there grew a problem of inmates in French prisons disappearing from their cells. The head of the French Bureau of Prisons, a woman by the name of Cherie, vowed to the French people that she would put a stop to this. It was uncommon for French men to address unmarried French women by their first names and not “Mademoiselle “. It was even more uncommon for a woman to hold such a position of authority. But Cherie was in a position of authority that granted she be called whatever she asked to be called. In Cherie’s effort to fix a seemingly broken prison system, she reached out to an American by the name of Inspector Capo. Inspector Capo had a reputation for being the best in his business. As the United States seemed rather eager to lock up their citizens, there was no shortage of prisons, or “pens”, to inspect. It was common to refer to prisons as pens. This worked to dehumanize the prizoners. They were like animals, kept safe in their pens. This was something most who worked in any prison system agreed upon. Cherie and Inspector Capo developed a 10 scale rating system for security of the French prisons. Inspector Capo would give a thorough review of each prison and then give Cherie his final grade: “I give this pen an 8, Cherie… This pen is a 7, Cherie.” Soon bribery won out over Inspector Capo’s pride. As soon as all prison grades turned into 10s, Inspector Capo could return to the United Staes with stories of success and Cherie could tell the French people she had done her job. Cherie hired French-born inspectors to keep up the charade. They didn’t understand the meaning of the syllables, but they knew what to say: “Pen a ten Cherie”. And so the term “Penitentiary” was born.

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