I Gotta Go
I walked into my new cell. New to me. Who knows how many guys have been through this cell on their own journey. It was empty at the time. For those of you who have never done time, having a cell to yourself is a rare experience and not to be taken lightly.
I dropped my duffel bag in the corner. Unloaded my television and legal box from the cart, and then took a glance around the pod to see where the broom and mop were stored. I saw the cage and found the necessary cleaning supplies. No one moves into a cell without cleaning first. Well, no one who has a few years under their belt, at least.
I sprayed the bunk down first. There was not a mattress yet, as the pod had just reopened. I cleaned both bunks, and then when I went to rinse the towel, I stopped in my tracks.
Where the hell is the sink and toilet? I had been locked up for a little over 13 years at that point, and the concept of a dry cell was foreign to me. For over a decade, I had slept in a bathroom. Usually with another person on the other bunk, and the arrangement of the cell varied, but the one constant that was in every cell was the toilet (no seat, of course) and sink.
I stood there. Frozen in time. It was like my brain locked up. My body felt a swirl of emotions, many of them embarrassing to this day.
My initial reaction was how much extra space the lack of a toilet and sink gave me. I felt the same way I did when I moved into my first apartment after college. So much space and nothing to fill it with. The relief, joy, and excitement I had for this opportunity quickly turned to a minor amount of fear as, out of nowhere, I needed to pee and I had no idea where the bathroom was.
The whole situation is embarrassing, and my family and friends (inside and out) get a kick out of this story when I tell it. But it brings to light something we often reference in here, but rarely discuss the ramifications of. Institutionalization.
Anyone who does more than a few months inside changes. We scream up and down that “prison won’t change me!” But it does. If you don’t think it will, you’re kidding yourself. Little things like the emotional roller coaster of a dry cell are testament to that. I often wonder what else will catch me by surprise as I get out.
Painting by Gwynne Duncan