Club Fed

Tempers flare and fights break out in prison. I suppose it’s no different than outside prison. But here at the USDB inmates have little to call their own and are kept in very close proximity (I can’t imagine the conditions in those California prisons). When you don’t have the option of distancing yourself from the guy who’s annoying you, it’s unlikely you’ll manage to resolve your issues peacefully.

A fight erupted in my housing unit last night between opposing players of a recently concluded flag football game. In prison, it’s better not to be around to see a fight so as not to find your name on the witness list. Testifying as a witness to a fight is considered “snitching,” the cardinal sin of prison. In most cases, snitches are beaten by other inmates and then, for their own protection, guards place them in the Protective Custody housing unit (PCHU). PCHU prisoners don’t receive nearly as many luxuries as their Minimum Security counterparts and once you’re in, there’s no getting back to general population.

I was fortunate to be no where near the event and therefore can offer no direct observations (did I mention that I didn’t see anything?), but what I can tell you about is the resulting “lock down,” which was my first.

Upon recognizing the fight, a tier guard yelled, “Lock Down!” and inmates not involved in the fight ambled back to their cells and shut their doors. Once you close the door, you can’t leave your cell until the guard booth unlocks it. Immediately after shutting my door, I realized I’d left my chair in the third row of the common area. You want every little comfort you can when you’re about to be locked down because you never know how long it will last. There’s no set time for a lock down; I’ve heard that some have lasted two weeks.

The purpose of a lock down is simply to reduce distraction and restore order. But after order is restored, the lock down remains in effect while the guards isolate potential witnesses (snitches!) and conduct an initial investigation. After the initial investigation is complete, the guards may decide to extend the lock down indefinitely to deter future outbreaks of violence.

I’d played in the flag football game, and unfortunately hadn’t showered immediately afterward, so I was dirty and sweaty when I shut myself into my room. I had no idea when I was going to get my next shower. I don’t think anyone wants to jump into a bed sweaty, but I was particularly averse to the idea since I had no ready access to clean sheets. With no chair, all I wanted to do was lay down in my bed. My only option was to give myself a bird bath in the sink/toilet combo.

This presented a problem. Water flows from my “spigot” with less pressure than most water fountains but I didn’t want to make a mess by getting water all over my cell, so I had to get creative. I hung a few pieces of paper over the window of my cell door for some privacy and laid a towel on the floor. I was able to wash my hair fairly easily, and with a fresh bar of soap, I washed my face and neck. Washing my torso was more difficult; I soaked through the towel on the floor. I washed my legs over the toilet so the water ran into the bowl. I felt pretty clean and figured soap residue was better than sweat, so I got into bed and waited out the lock down.

The guard commander announced that if our housing unit was quiet for the rest of the night, we’d be unlocked in the morning.


The buzz of the electric lock never sounded better as the guards opened my cell in the next morning. I took a nice long hot shower for good measure and was thankful that my first lockdown was short. During longer lock downs the cooks deliver meals to your cells that are of a substantially lower quality than those available in the dining facility. Having the limited meal choices our dining facility offers is a blessing compared to the alternative of eating PB&Js in your cell every meal.


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