12 June, 2020

Two Noisy Neighbors Plus Three Phantom Flushes Equal Zero Sleep

Any rest that a person gets in prison is going to be hard-won. This goes as much for fulfilling sleep as for mental rest. I do okay with the latter, with relaxation and meditation, but getting a decent night's rest seems to have become next to impossible.

Jeff and I got a new neighbor on Monday — a skinny kid of about twenty, with short, short dreadlocks and a friendly smile. His cellmate, however, is our least favorite person in the wing, advertising his selfish attitude in almost everything he does, from dragging his feet at lockdown times, to cutting in front of people in line for meals, to frequently shouting back and forth with our neighbors across the walk, to camping on the phone without a care for who's waiting. His consistently shitty behavior makes us wonder how he ever made it to the honor dorm. Some guys just get lucky.

After about two days of the new kid's acclimation, Jeff and I started hearing shuffles, thumps, laughter, and shrieks through the wall. Great, we thought, our neighbors are roughhousers. Throughout the day, their spirited conversations carry easily from their cell to ours. They stay up late into the night, too. I woke to their excited hooting on three separate occasions during the past eighteen hours alone. The last time, I rolled over on my bunk, seized the handle of my metal footlocker, and, as hard as I could, slammed it three times into the wall. Finally, the children quieted down. The damage was done, though; I lay awake for more than an hour afterward, my body piqued with adrenaline, cortisol, and whatever other stress-related chemicals my system churns out when I'm incensed.

Sometime after 1:30 AM, perhaps, sleep's sweet embrace once again enfolded me. I had a dream about my favorite park, about walking through its rose garden and feeling blissfully at ease, free and completely comfortable. All around me, birds came to land in numbers unheard of — sparrows and pigeons, as well as blue jays, grackles, and cardinals by the score.

What might it mean? I asked my dream self. I extended a hand to pet one of the birds' beaks that seemed to be waiting for my touch. It closed its tiny eyes, and other birds came nearer. A feeling of acceptance and trust by these often-timid creatures overwhelmed me.

Then a gurgling rose from nearby, rapidly growing louder and louder, until it became a muted roar. I awoke and still heard the sound: our toilet flushing. By itself. On the top bunk, Jeff turned on his reading lamp. We both stared at the commode flushing itself. It kept going and going, and for a brief period I wondered if it would stop at all, or if we'd have to try to get the institution's plumbers to our cell before breakfast. After a minute or two it let off a high-pitch squeal, then stopped.

I looked at the clock. 3:18 AM. The toilet fell silent. Then it flushed again, for a normal duration. Then it flushed a third time, and was still.

"Our plumbing is haunted," Jeff said.

I grumbled back, "This whole place is nightmarish."

Neither one of us managed a productive sleep after that. I can only imagine what horrors tonight's going to bring. That's prison for you.

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