Column: Prison Diaries – Entry 8, Keeping the Glass Half Full

Entry 8 — April 16, 2014

If complaining were a marketable job skill, there would be no employment problems for ex-cons. These guys can bitch about any circumstance; the weather, the food (guilty!), the guards, other inmates, what's on TV, commissary shortages and basically every Bureau of Prisons policy and procedure ever thought up.

Some of this is no doubt an effect of becoming institutionalized, where any small change in the daily regimen can set people off, but a lot of their grievances are valid. And while I am making a conscious attempt to be less of a “Debbie Downer” these days, there are some things about this place that just stick in my crawl.

Take, for instance, our horror movie showers. While most of the other bathrooms on the compound have been remodeled in the past couple of years, our downstairs showers — the ones we *chomos must use — are vintage, dark, moldy 3x4 foot cinderblock boxes.

Going inside one reminds me of playing that childhood game, Hot Lava. Touch the floor and you die! The same goes for the walls, which are forever covered in green blotches and an invisible layer of slime. The pipes and faucets come out of large, pitch-black holes that have been knocked open in the walls from previous repairs, where my little friend and bathing buddy, Pepe, the three-inch cockroach lives.

With 250 men in the unit, the showers pretty much run all day long, and since ventilation is nonexistent, big fat drops of condensation rain down constantly from the ceiling. Some of the not too bright guys will use the floor squeegee to wipe them off, but that only serves to spread those drug resistant prison cooties from the bottoms of our shower shoes to our heads, which is, you know, eew.

Then there is the matter of our bunks being just a cruel 26 inches wide. Books, blankets, pencils, eyeglasses, (contraband) earplugs, food and other things that I have squirreled away on top of and underneath my (painfully thin) mattress are always falling on poor old Joe in the bunk below me. Attempting to turn over requires the care of parallel parking on Las Olas. But I suppose that living with petty deprivations of cleanliness and personal space are just part of the price of paying one's debt to society. I know, I know, prison isn't supposed to be a spa retreat. More like its exact opposite.

In an effort to keep this glass half full, I will share some very good news I found out this week. Despite being told on (what we call the rumor mill here) that sex offenders don't qualify. It turns out that I will indeed be eligible for time off my sentence (up to a year!) for completing the nine month drug treatment program. I'll need to be transferred to another facility, but it's not like I'm gonna miss this place. Besides, Pepe says he's always wanted to travel.

*Inmates in prison for child molestation or child porn are referred to as chomos by the other inmates.

 Inmate #50095-004 Christopher Reina is serving a five-year sentence in federal prison. In his writing he shares how he is surviving prison life as a gay inmate. Chris is paying it forward by donating his compensation for this column to a charity close to his heart.

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