Clean That Up (The Early Years Part 1 by Polish Avenger)
Polish Avenger – A software-engineering undergraduate sentenced to 25 years because his friend was shot dead during a burglary they were committing. In Arizona, if a burglar gets killed, the accomplices can get 25-year sentences.
The year was 1994. The place was the dreaded gulag known as Cell Block Eight a.k.a. Special Management Unit I a.k.a. SMU a.k.a. Supermax Lockdown. The worst of the worst. The hole of holes. At the time, it was the highest security joint in the entire State of Arizona. And I, your humble Polish Avenger, was sent there directly from the county jail. Not for being a badass, but due to the felony murder charge. Despite my criminal misbehaviours, I’ve never really been a “tough guy.” Nevertheless, I was to begin my 25-year sentence in a baptism of fire.
Actually, it wasn’t all that melodramatic. Sure, there were a few close calls and dangerous moments (to be chronicled in future posts), but for the most part it was 100% what those places are supposed to be: sensory deprivation and solitary confinement. L-O-N-G days! Enough to drive a fellow stark raving bonkers with boredom at times.
So you can imagine how happy I was one day (about 6 months into my stay) when they came and told me, “Get ready to work.” Hell yeah! Out of 60 people in my section, only 5 of us were nominated. Ah me, what an honor, I thought, nearly skipping with glee down to the work area to be issued equipment.
The first shadow of apprehension clouded my delight when the equipment turned out to be a paper hazmat suit, three pairs of latex gloves, a spray bottle of bleach, and several scour pads. The rest of the happy vanished when they led me to one of the infamous holding cells, popped open the door, and told me, “Clean that up.”
We must take a moment here to digress upon the holding cell. The ones at SMU are a particularly unpleasant place to find yourself. Granted, it is deliberately so. In a supermax prison, when you get unruly, and need a “time out,” you go to a holding cell. For up to three days. It has a concrete slab to lay on. It has a steel sink and toilet that the guards can cut the water should you try to flood the room. It has a 12-foot ceiling, so you can’t tamper with the 24-hour lights. It has a little window in the door. It has a trap-door slot, also in the door. And that’s all.
We’ll meet these holding cells again in posts to come.
The one we’re talking about for the moment had just been the living area of one of those unruly, misbehaved malcontents. For three days. And whoever this person was, apparently he’d decided to channel his anger and malcontentedness into trying to cover every single square inch of the place in feces. Literally. There was poo on the floor. There were big pooey handprints all over the walls. There was flung poo stuck to the 12-foot ceiling. There was poo all over the window. About the only poo-free spot was the toilet. Go figure.
At the time, this was the most poo I’d ever seen. Outside of the zoo.
And yes, my new job was to clean that up. All of it. By hand.
And I did! As you might imagine, it did not smell like roses! I also discovered a rather interesting physical property of human excrement, one that I had been blissfully ignorant of up until then. That stuff is like concrete! If you squish it into a cavity, like the holes in cinderblock, and then let it dry, it’ll harden up and become nearly impossible to dislodge. Later on we had decent results using a high-power pressure washer to blast it out. Unfortunately, that also tended to atomize it into easily inhaled particulates.
Back to the story! It took me several hours, almost all the bleach, and a strong stomach, but finally the cell was fit for the next occupant. A sergeant inspected it, gave me a gruff “Good job,” and told me to be ready again for work tomorrow. I was officially a Biohazard Porter for the princely sum of 5 cents an hour. After deductions, I netted 2.5 cents. With hard work and savings, some day I’d be able to buy that bag of chips I’d always dreamed of.
My prison career had begun.
Click here for Polish Avenger’s previous blog.
Coming soon: Two Tonys’ latest letter.
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Shaun P. Attwood