Mar 25 04

Sufferer Of The Week

I am allowed out of my cell for one hour each day to make a phone call and to take a shower. During my first "hour out" in the new pod, I was serenaded by the inmates, who performed a husky version of "A Yellow Submarine." I was touched by their demonstration of high spirits in a part of the jail known for extreme suffering.

My new neighbours are enduring the twin evils of a broken swamp cooler and a cockroach infestation. They are proving to be the crème de le crème of good sufferers.

A seventy-year old downstairs became the first victim of the soaring temperatures. He was stretchered from the pod after suffering chest pains. Before he collapsed, he became delusional and made a variety of bizarre comments that disturbed his young cellmate:
"Take me to the hospital, so I can put on my clothes."
"Take me out to the desert and shoot me."
"Let's go! Grab the key to the front door."
"I have a broken back. I can't walk!"

A neighbour who is asthmatic happily described his experience with a cockroach that had crept into his inhaler during the night. When he woke up, he grabbed the inhaler and blasted the insect down his throat. Feeling the cockroach moving around, he promptly vomited his stomach contents. Unfortunately, the cockroach was not ejected, as it was lodged inside of him. He was subsequently awarded “sufferer of the week,” a title I came up with to entertain my neighbours.

Mark and I have used six tubes of AmerFresh toothpaste and six ounces of Razorless Beard Remover cementing cracks in the walls. The cockroaches still flood our cell every night and I have awoken numerous times this week to observe my hair stood on end and a cockroach crawling on my body. I previously considered my apelike fur coating as one of nature's cruel jokes, but now I have discovered it to be a useful defensive shield against verminous insects. My upright hairs must seem like an unwelcoming forest to the little foragers.

I once read about a lady in Australia whose ear was entered by a cockroach as she slept. It chose not to come out. She was hospitalised, operated on, and she successfully sued the Australian government for failing to eradicate the cockroaches from her council home. She came to mind this week when a cockroach climbed a pink flannel I had hung below our tiny steel table to dry. It gravitated toward some earwax residue on the flannel, stopped, and breakfasted on it excitedly. I told my cellmate about the Australian lady and he now sleeps with his pink towel wrapped around his head.

Chicken Wing is in a neighbouring pod and I am trying to find out if Church on the Street will accept him when he leaves.
18 Mar 04

Roach Attack

One of the unsettling things about cellular living is that the jail can randomly uproot you and transplant you to a new environment at any time. During my two-year stay, I've been "rolled-up" (moved) numerous times. A new cell equals a new garrison of cockroaches to battle, and I have learned to travel armed with enough AmerFresh toothpaste to block cockroach entry points effectively.

On Tuesday, our pod was moved to a different floor and I used my entire stock of AmerFresh to seal the cracks in the walls. The cell was quickly and expertly fortified against the enemy. That night, I admired the bug-free environment, relished the room's minty-fresh aroma and slept soundly. Little did I know the jail was about to sabotage my hard work.

On Wednesday, I was moved back to my original floor, into one of the most infested pods in the building. Completely unarmed with AmerFresh, I watched helplessly as the cockroaches sized me up from the myriad cracks in the walls. I knew as soon as the lights went off I was doomed. My cellmate, Mark, and I didn’t get much sleep. We stayed awake watching the legions of cockroaches conquer the room. Slowly gathering into larger numbers around us, they swarmed the floor. The walls. The ceiling. Our commissary bags. And finally, our bunks.

After Wednesday's defeat, I obtained a 170-gram tube of Mild Magic Fragrant Cream Shave Razorless Beard Remover, and I spent two hours filling in the cracks. The enemy emerge like clockwork when the lights go out, so I shall update tonight’s skirmish in next week’s blog.

My new cellmate, Mark, is mellow. The swamp cooler is not working properly and my favourite Radio show Coast 2 Coast hardly tunes in.
4 Mar 04

Chicken Wing

Chicken Wing lives in cell 6. At age eleven, a car crash left him with brain damage and partial handicapping of his left side. His left arm was mangled and now sticks up uselessly in the air.
In a holding cell at Medical, he once divulged to me that a convict named Bacon had repeatedly raped him at a federal prison. Chicken Wing is institutionalized and does not have any outside support. Using the Inmate Canteen Order Form, I buy him cookies every Thursday. When he receives his cookies, he barks excitedly. Like a dog anticipating a walk.

On Tuesday morning, Chicken Wing had a seizure.
“Man down! Man down! Man down!” yelled Chicken Wing’s cellmate, Leprechaun.
"Man down! Man Down! Man Down!” boomed a chorus of voices until the guards finally responded.
“He’s not breathing!” screamed a female guard.
Guards swarmed the day room. They stretchered Chicken Wing to Medical.
Later in the evening, Chicken Wing returned looking somewhat better.
"Are you OK?" I asked him during my hour out.
“Am I still good for cookies?” he replied.
I laughed.
“I’m sentenced now. I got probation,” he said in a sad voice.
“That’s good. You’ll be out of here soon.”
“But where will I go? I have nowhere to stay. How will I be able to do probation?”
"You should see if Pastor Walt at Church on the Street has any beds available."

The jail’s psychiatric examiner recently decreed that Chicken Wing has sufficient mental competency to take care of himself, so after his release he will get no help from the State of Arizona. The majority of the inmates here expect him to rejoin us soon. I doubt anyone would have cared if Chicken Wing had died last Tuesday morning.

11 Mar 04

The temperature suddenly rose this week. We are lounging in our cells wearing only the jail's standard-issue pink boxers. Each cell receives a trickle of swamp-cooled air, which does little to alleviate our suffering in the summer months when we feel like we are being baked alive in concrete ovens.
On Sunday, our drinking water turned orange-brown, and had particles of rust in it. The discolouration lasted for three days. I relied on the small carton of milk served with breakfast to quench my thirst.
On Tuesday I was sitting on the toilet, about to wipe, when the door slid open.
"Get on your mattress!" said the armed member of the "goon squad" accompanying the bug-spray man.
“We’d like to refuse being sprayed," I said, waving the roll of toilet paper I was about to use at him.
“Get on your mattress!” he yelled, raising his weapon.
Suppressing the urge to pelt him with the toilet roll, I pulled up my pants and retreated to my mattress.
Our cell is sprayed every month, against our wishes, with us in it. We inevitably ingest some of the spray, and we feel sick and dizzy afterwards. Spraying has zero effect on the cockroach population. Inmates have a right not to live in an environment infested with insects, but spraying enables the jail to flout the law by claiming on paper they are addressing the problem.
19 Feb 04

Deep Shit

The toilet I sleep next to is full of sewage. We've had no running water for three days. Yesterday, I knew we were in trouble when the mound in our steel throne peaked above sea level.

Inmates often display remarkable ingenuity during difficult occasions and this crisis has resulted in a number of my neighbours defecating in the plastic bags the mouldy breakfast bread is served in. For hours they kept those bags in their cells, then disposed of them downstairs when allowed out for showers. As I write, inmates brandishing plastic bags are going from cell door to door proudly displaying their accomplishments.

The whole building reeks like a giant Portaloo. Putting a towel over the toilet in our tiny cell offers little reprieve. My neighbour, Eduardo, is suffering diarrhoea from the rotten chow. I can't imagine how bad his cell stinks.

I am hearing that the local Health Department has been contacted. Hopefully they will come to our rescue soon.

I received a card from Claudia saying she is going to stick with me no matter what happens. Through her brother, Jay, I was able to coordinate a delivery of roses for her on Valentine's Day.

20 Feb 04

My cellmate couldn't hold his in any longer. He pinched his nose and lifted the towel from the toilet. Repulsed by the mound, he said, "There's way too much crap to crap on. I'm gonna use a bag." So as jail etiquette demands in these situations, I rolled over on my bunk and faced the wall. I heard something hit the rim of the seatless toilet, and him say, "Damn! I missed some! " When he was done, he put the finished product by the door and the stink doubled. He had no water to clean the errant piece off the toilet, so it remained forming a crustation on the rim. We were hoping to be allowed out to dispose of the bag, until a guard announced, "There will be no one coming out for showers and phone calls, as we have to get one-hundred-and twenty inmates water from an emergency container!"

The water came back on in stages. In our toilet, its level slowly rose.
“Oh no,” I said. “It’s about to overflow, and we’ll be stuck in here with sewage all over the floor.”
“One of us needs to stick his hand in the crap to let the water through,” my cellmate said. “And you’re the closest.”
The brown soup was threatening to spill from the bowl, so I put a sandwich bag on my hand. "I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I said, plunging my hand into the mound. The mound took the bag from my hand. Almost up to my elbow in sewage, I dug until the water level sank.
“I owe you one, dawg,” my cellmate said.
“It’s your turn next time,” I said.
Because the tap water hadn’t come back on, I couldn't wash my arm. Not wanting to contaminate anything in the cell, I sat on the stool until a guard let us out for showers hours later.

26 Feb 04

At 7am, I awoke to a cockroach tickling the palm of my hand. Like everyone else in the jail except for the staff, it was probably hungry. I flicked it toward the door. It took the hint and headed west.

The excursion of the week was to the Medical Unit for a "general wellness checkup." Four of us were summoned from our pod. At the nurse's desk we were interviewed one after the other:

"I slept with a woman from a trailer park just before I was arrested," said one of my embarrassed neighbours as the nurse diagnosed him with scabies.
Next up was our chow server. I was shocked to overhear that he has had infectious tuberculosis for the duration of his stay.
The third inmate complained that he had gone two days without his seizure medication and as a result was unable to sleep.
When it was my turn, the nurse insisted I should take a TB test. I protested that I had been tested twice already. She looked at my medical history, and snarled, "Well, you'll have to take another test before June, so you might as well have it now."

At least our water is flowing again. Inmates are still trading stories about defecating in plastic bags and urinating in pop bottles. The inmate the media has dubbed the "101 Slayer" boasted he was able to hold his business in for the entire three-day outage. It was also his mum that called the Health Department and got the jail in trouble. Hopefully, our toilets will continue to function normally, at least, until we are moved to the new jail facility, which should be this summer.