VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: ‘Do You Want to Sell Your Shower?’

Photo by PAN XIAOZHEN on Unsplash

By Angie D. Gordon

I  haven’t been in the hole for some time, almost seven years actually, and even though that’s only half of the time I’ve been down it feels like a lifetime ago. Now maybe I’m mistaken, but I don’t recall officers buying showers from the incarcerated for excess state supplies the last time I was here. For the record, here is building twelve, Mule Creek State Prison, administrative segregation. Why I’m here is another story, one I most certainly will tell, but for now, this business is with the showers.

Less than a week ago, I was sitting in the squalor and disarray of an intake cell, that pernicious and peculiar time when the peril of your position is settling in around, not unlike raining shit, and you’re wishing that someone would turn off the fan already, what’s done is done. But they insist that you sit in it for 72 hours. Maybe they’re right, what do I know? They are the professionals. Anyway, I was sitting there in a mess of my own making when an officer comes to the door. She had a pack of state cookies in her hand, the terrible sandwich kind with sweetened chalk powder caked between two flavorless rounds. “Do you want to sell your shower?” She said.

At the time I had no idea that SHE was the one buying; rather, I assumed, as anyone would, that she was acting on behalf of a fellow captive. I thought at that moment how nice that was of her, to be so helpful, peddling some poor sap’s cookies just so they can get some extra time in the shower. I’m almost ashamed to say that I sincerely considered taking the cookies, not because I wanted to forego my turn under the water, but on the impulse to be part of something amazing, a rare and almost unbelievable bridge of kindness I imagined forged between officer and ward. The only thing that stopped me was the rain of shit, and the officer seemed to know without me responding to her offer; she said, “You want your shower, hun?”

It was a few days later, new cell, less squalor, no longer raining shit, just festering at that point; a different officer this time, but the same sales pitch. I was on the front bar this time, so I guess I caught the show early. The cop was pushing a cart with dinner trays, lunches, new sheets, and towels. It was then that I understood, they weren’t buying extra shower time for another resident, they were paying for us not to take a shower. I scratched my head at this, and to their credit, I forgot about the shit for a good minute.

Being in the hole is generally awful, if not for the detriment it has on one’s program than for the way that it intensifies the typical privations of prison. The hunger is worse, the lack of exposure, the boredom, and monotony, they are all heightened, untouchable urges bouncing around that tiny and barren space like pinballs, every strike lighting up your inability to forget the complete and utter helplessness of the moment, the fact that no matter what you think or do, right then and there nothing can change what’s right in front of you: the cold and meager reality of state issue. This is a hell of a demographic to be peddling wares to.

At first, though, I didn’t care. I figured, “Hey, what’s the harm? I mean, lots of people birdbath in the hole, so why shouldn’t they have action at some extra supplies? It’s not hurting anyone.” It clearly worked for the cops too, I mean, it was one less body to ferry back and forth from the shower, one less pair of hands to restrain, one less trip from the desk to the cell to the shower and then back again. As I said, I didn’t really care, but then I finally received a shower.

Usually, you hear horror stories from the incarcerated about being forced to take cold showers, and sometimes they do happen, I’ve had them, but scalding hot showers? Now, that’s another thing entirely. I worked in kitchens for years prior to my arrest, and we had a saying: “asbestos hands.”

The term refers to someone who has been exposed to high heat, the steam and ovens and hot oil and boiling stockpots and smoking skillets, someone who has been exposed so often that their body just doesn’t seem to register heat in the same way as the rest of us. I never got there, but I stuck around long enough to know that even a seasoned asbestos-conditioned cook would have had real trouble standing full-on in that water. We are talking immediate steam.

Now it would be unfounded and verging on the brink of conspiracy to say that the cops had the shower temps turned up intentionally, I mean, that would be sheer premeditated laziness of the highest order. It would make sense, though, and it would certainly be a stick to accompany the carrot of leftover state shit, but could they be that clever? I asked the cop on the way back to the cell, “Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone just bird bathed?”

“Yeah,” he said, “that would be way less work.” He didn’t try to upsell me, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, after this, I started bathing in the cell, I mean, no one could stand in that water without getting burned, but I still don’t sell my time. It’s not about some protest for their shady venture, or for the way that they prey on the desperation of caged humans, or even for the noble aim of finding a way to sit on their ass one minute longer. I didn’t sell my time for a completely different reason, and it’s one I’m not afraid to admit. In the fourteen years I’ve been down I have tried to take a bath in a garbage can, just to feel submerged in water again; I have tilted a chair back against a mop sink and paid to have someone wash my hair, just to feel like I’m back in the salon; but in all my time I have never had action at a righteous sauna, and the pleasure of a good steam is worth a hell of a lot more than a pack of state cookies.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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