16 April, 2021

Showering Is My Favorite Part of Prison

"Don't drop the soap," people joke – a sure sign that they don't actually know the first thing about prison. One assumes that drunken guffaws often follow the remark, when they imagine a bunch of naked, sudsy men standing elbow-to-elbow in a big steamy room. I'm here to tell you, it's not funny.

Group shower areas do still exist in some American prisons; ERDCC isn't one of them. I shower every day, mercifully alone, in a stall fronted by a thick gray vinyl curtain that comes up almost to my chest. Figments of the public's homoerotic imagination notwithstanding, no one leers at me while I lather, scrub, shave, and rinse. I'm far more exposed while I making my way down the walk, from my cell to the shower, wearing only a T-shirt, boxers, and shower shoes, than I am in the shower itself. If this wasn't the case, I might be less inclined to enjoy shower time as much.

I used to use bath gel, which the prison canteen sells. Then I became conscious of how wasteful it was to throw so many plastic bottles away. Now I use bar soap exclusively. It leaves my skin dry, forcing me to use more lotion, which comes in its own plastic bottle that has to be thrown away, but at least I use fewer bottles this way. Sometimes I do drop the soap. It sucks, but only because of the little bits of grit and hair that I sometimes have to thoroughly scrub and rinse off of the bar before using it.

In an environment where peace and quiet are a near-impossibility, and solitude scarcer still, the thirteen- to twenty-minute periods I get to spend under a stream of water every evening are highlights of my days. Prison showers offer no temperature control knob, just a single button, but my body can relax under what is usually warm water, and my mind follows suit. I sink to a level of mere doing. I let awareness of my skin, of the rhythm of my breathing, of my sense of embodiment come to the fore, but I try not to attach myself to these things.

Thoughts inevitably arise, and when they do, I let them run their course. I file them away for later, when I'm in a position to consider their meaning and practicality. Showers are, for me, very meditative. Sometimes, though, I'll hum. Yesterday the prelude to a baroque cello suite came to mind, so I hummed Bach. Tomorrow's shower might be silent, or accompanied by a tune by Concrete Blonde. There's no telling what might spring up from the depths. Either way, I come out feeling refreshed, enlivened, and, above all, – clean.

When the institution's under lockdown, such as when one prisoner badly assaults another, or when staff shortages dip below the minimum required to run the facility, I'm not so bothered by being confined to my cell (where all my books, devices, and drawing and writing supplies are) as I am by feeling the day's dirt coating my body. It's not that I'm an especially oily person, just that I'm more sensitive to the oil than most. I never sleep well without a shower.

Decades ago, I was in a single-car accident, an end-over-end flip in a two-door sports coupe that could've killed both the driver and me. We clambered out, amid the tinkle of broken glass and loose change, and stood staring, in moderate shock, until the ambulance and tow truck arrived. After the ER, my apologetic friend took me to a twenty-four-hour diner, then home, where the first thing I did was peel off those bandages and run some warm water. It's no secret that a shower can be cathartic.

In prison it's no different. True, I don't have the daily traumas that some prisoners experience – I don't dodge gangbangers, sadistic guards, or butt pirates – but I appreciate the few minutes of me time when I'm alone and can let my guard down a notch, when my muscles relax and I can enact my routine: face rub, head shave, body scrub, rinse off, towel down, lotion up, and venture at last to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream.

Every problem seems manageable after a shower, every worry fades just a bit. What's not to love?

1 comment:

  1. since Covid a lot of people gave up showering daily now once a week, washing up needed parts daily.


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