Tuesday, February 5, 2013


DAY TEN: Prison Diary January 12, 2013 Solitary Confinement Okaloosa C.I., Crestview, FL


With the continued budget cutbacks, another area the prison system has thrown on the wood pile is laundry. Out here in "no-man's land," where public scrutiny is rare, many of the prisoners look like homeless people, or "outdoorsmen," as the late Mitt Romney called them, wearing clothing not much better than rags. For those with families who visit them, they are dressed better - we don't want any distraught mothers calling the newspapers and complaining, but if you are in solitary confinement, Heaven help you - you are the "Forgotten Ones."

Some of these guys coming out of their cells look like they've been in one of those Mixed Martial Arts fights where their opponents' goal was to rip their clothes to shreds. One poor guy's blue shirt was ripped down the back, his bare shoulder sticking out, trying to hold up a ragged pair of trousers several sizes too large.

Under no circumstances do you dare turn in your clothes for washing at the laundry! If they come back in the cart at all, you'll never see the same ones you sent. The "orderlies" will pick through the laundry and take anything better than a rag.

Which brings us to Saturday, Day 11 of my sojourn in solitary. We don't go to any callouts to medical or dental or classification on the weekends, so that becomes wash day. Wash your meager belongings in the tiny sink that dribbles water, never let them out of your sight, hang them off your bunk and hope they will dry.

"Back in the day," old-time convicts washed all their clothes on Saturday morning in their toilet, known in the prison vernacular as a "shit jacket."

It freaked me out to go over to Jack "Murf the Surf" Murphy's "house," what we called the cells, on Saturday morning, and there he'd be, merrily scrubbing and rinsing his personal socks in the toilet. Of course, he'd have cleaned the toilet beforehand, but I never could bring myself to wash my clothes in the cell toilet. I still won't. It may take longer, but I have "time." Call me squeamish.

So I washed my blue shirt, let it hang all day, then when it was almost dry, I carefully smoothed out the wrinkles, folded it, and placed it between the hard steel bunk and the plastic-covered mattress. Tomorrow it will come out looking like it was pressed. I washed my socks and tee shirt, and tomorrow I'll wash my boxers. I am lucky to have them - "personals," - purchased from the Internet canteen order by my family. I don't dare let them out of sight. They fit, and they are mine.

Solitary is a musty, smelly place. Men in close quarters, locked in small cells, showers three times a week, sweaty clothing, raw armpits and elsewhere, think of an animal den where the bear slept all winter. Many of these prisoners were homeless before they came to prison, many have mental disorders that caused them to wander the city streets - remember the crazy-looking guy who wanted to wash your car window at the stoplight with a filthy rag? He's in here with me. And he is still not too concerned about hygiene, or what anyone else thinks about him. Sometimes it is a defense mechanism against rape. A young man who isn't tough enough to defend himself might let his personal hygiene go to Hell, refuse to shower or change clothes, and like the skunk, hope to use his awful scent to drive away predators. It doesn't always work - someimes the predator is as smelly and musty as his prey.

That's the last thing I'm worried about, so I will wash my clothes and myself, and cling to any small scraps of dignity I can hang on to.

See you tomorrow.

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