17 December, 2021

Showering in Prison

At some point in recent history, architects got together with state officials and decided to start building prisons without communal showers. Whoever thought those were a good idea in the first place? Everybody standing around, damp and vulnerable in their birthday suits, seems like a veritable invitation for those with predatory inclinations to rape, assault, or otherwise harass the prisoners around them.

Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center is fewer than twenty years old. The now-shuttered Crossroads Correctional Center, where I spent sixteen years before ERDCC, was built just six years previous. Both were constructed as maximum-security facilities, complete with lethal electric fence; both were equipped with individual stalls for scrubbing oneself clean. My only experience with group showers was the demoralizing intake process, when I first entered the Department of Corrections' custody and was made to rinse off the sheepdip they drenched me with a few minutes prior.

Many years ago, in school, I failed multiple Phys Ed classes because I refused to dress out for activities. I wasn't embarrassed to change clothes in the midst of classmates; doing so just felt like a violation. Some teachers ridiculed me for this, and some issued punishments, but I stuck to my guns. These days, a more considerate attitude prevails. General awareness of mental health issues and neurodiversity mean that fewer kids now are likely to be terrorized by such rules (which strike me as borderline creepy, anyway). Prison seems to be headed the same direction. But there are holdouts.

The other night I was crossing the wing, wearing a T-shirt and boxers, fresh out of the shower. A guy from upstairs asked why I didn't acknowledge him earlier when he said hello.

"When?" I asked, genuinely wondering.

"Just a few minutes ago! You were in the shower."

"Oh, well that's why," I said. "If I'm in the shower, that's 'me time.' Everything outside of that stall might as well not even exist."

"You didn't come through MSP, did you?" he asked, referring to the old Missouri State Penitentiary, "the Old Walls," a brutal and bloody place right out of a movie, from a time before "correctional center" became the government's euphemism of choice.

I told him no, but added, "We're not there, though, are we? Things have changed. You've got to adapt." I kept walking.

He closed his eyes, shook his head, and like a stubborn child, muttered, "No, no, no, no, no!"

Even if I hadn't been that kid who refused to put on shorts for Gym, is it too much to ask someone not to acknowledge me when they pass the row of showers where I'm standing naked behind a chest-high curtain? In that situation, who the hell considers it rude if passersby don't stop? Are we so desperate for interaction that, even those ten to twenty minutes under a jet of water are too much time to bear being alone?

I cherish the pseudo-solitude of daily showertimes – almost as much as I appreciate the few hours each week that I'm alone in my cell. How to convince people that neither is aberrant behavior? I could just as well ask why we fear ourselves, our own thoughts. Why do we find it weird to prefer being away from strangers, clothed or unclothed? The man who can't accept showering as a reason for privacy has become institutionalized. It's a sad fate. I check myself for it often. As long as I keep enjoying those quiet, peaceful moments alone, I'm probably good.

1 comment:

  1. A little privacy even if it's not much is better. I just can't understand group showers.


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.