Sunday, April 4, 2009
Forty-Five Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp
I really thought I had experienced the worst of confinement. By now I have about 90 percent of my prison term behind me, and I feel as well adjusted as possible. This week, however, I had two experiences that caused me to scratch my head and acknowledge that despite the preparations I had made and the equanimity I had mustered, I remained confined inside the boundaries of an abnormal world.
Earlier this week I wrote about the Nazi symbols a few of my fellow prisoners had tattooed on their pasty arms. I had seen photographs of people with swastika tattoos in magazines and images on television. Seeing the symbols of anti-semitism up close, within a conversation’s distance, left me feeling less at ease in my environment. I didn’t have any altercations or confrontations with the men, though I didn’t feel comfortable sharing small spaces with hatred.
I had another wake-up call of my environment as I was showering in one of the stalls yesterday. The shower areas in Taft’s prison camp, for the most part, are clean. A cadre of orderlies work hard to scrub them down each morning with a strong disinfectant. Each shower is in a stall with swinging doors to offer an illusion of privacy between knee and chest height. I stepped into stall number 11 after my exercise session late in the morning. I closed the swinging door behind me, then folded my towel and underwear over the door. I turned around, with my eyes on the faucet to crank on the water. I adjusted the shower head and felt the water rinse over me.
All was fine. Then my peripheral vision caught something out of place on the tile floor of the stall. It was in the corner. Upon realizing what it was, I felt so startled that I had to jump back. One of the men who had showered before me, apparently, had decided to leave a small gift. I’ve read that astronauts and mountain climbers leave behind a flag to commemorate their visits. I’ve seen dogs pee on a tree or a post to mark their spot. The prisoner who showered in stall number 11 before me chose to mark his presence with a different symbol. He squatted down in the shower and defecated in the corner.
I couldn’t believe what I saw. I didn’t know the proper protocol. What was I supposed to do? Would they mistakenly assume that I had had the indecency to defecate in a shower stall when a row of toilets was only ten yards away? I didn’t want anyone else to see what I had seen. Since someone had to remove it, I wrapped it in my boxers and carried it out to the trash. This revolting aspect of confinement was not something I wanted to experience again. In fact, I looked forward to finishing up these final seven weeks of imprisonment. I’ve had enough.