The following day things got worse. Everything came to a head. During the morning “unlock” we are allowed to clean our cells. I always try to have a short conversation with my celly prior to cleaning: first to make sure he’s OK, and secondly – and probably more honestly – to make sure we don’t have any “accidents” after I clean. If a problem occurs after the morning “unlock” we’re stuck with it for the remainder of the day, if you know what I mean. Michael assured me he was fine. He wasn’t., He had a complete loss of continence and his bed and the cell was filled with stool and the smell of it when I returned from the shower. In his attempt to get up from the bed, he left a trail of stool across the floor to the toilet.
I was absolutely livid, and yet at the same time he looked so pitiful, so lost and clumsy, with his Parkinsonian tremor and the psychological assault on his manhood.
I pushed the intercom. “What’s your emergency?” the voice asked.
“We’ve got an accident here that we need to…”
“Tell the floor officer!”
And then there was a click as the guard severed our communication. We both stood for about 10 minutes with nothing happening. He did not open the door to let us out.
When it finally did open, I walked across the day room to the outer door in front of the floor officer’s desk. He could see me coming and could tell it was not good. His expression, however, did help me to cool down; there was no need to take it out on him. I saw him call up to the tower and the door popped open.
I stepped across the hallway and began, “Look,” I said, “I told you guys a month ago, and I discussed it with the doctor more than a week ago about this guy’s diarrhea and now there’s shit all over the cell.” He looked at me quietly, kind of ‘what do you expect me to do,’ so I put it in terms he could understand. “I get that it doesn’t matter to you but here’s how it works. He shits all over and as a result there are bacteria everywhere. He touches his sheets and then the table top; I write a letter on the table and give it to you. You go home and that cute little kid of yours; you give him a rub on the head to reassure him that you love him. Two days later he’s got an infection in his eyes and the worst case of diarrhea you have ever seen. You get it. And as for your buddy in the tower, he’s an idiot because he cut me off. I just don’t get you guys.”
The guard starts to look around the area. “Well, I do have clean bedding,” he said.
I thanked him for it, but my frustration level was still enormously high. “I’m not trying to bust your balls,” I said, “I’m trying to save us all a lot of headaches. We’ve already got nine more guys than the module could accommodate.” There were nine cots in the day room, all victims of a parole sweep that the Solano County Sheriff’s department makes periodically. These were all older white guys, in their fifties, who looked more like accountants than anything else – balding with half-eye glasses. The Sheriff’s officers had gone to their homes. Two were barbecuing in the back yard and were arrested for drinking beer, apparently a violation of their parole. One guy had been picked up at home at 0800 and brought in for a urine test. It was now two days later: since he was now here, he was required to see the judge. The judge would not be available until Tuesday because Monday, Memorial Day was a holiday. What a mess.
I didn’t talk to Mike the rest of the day. When we sat down to dinner I felt bad, but then his tremor caused him to knock over his Jim Jones and I went nuts. None of this needed to be happening. The doctor could have resolved his diarrhea with a tablespoon of Pepto Bismol, and yet here we were more than a month later.
It was even more frustrating to watch Mike’s pathetic attempts to clean it up. Perhaps it’s his medications, but there are these long periods of indecision, of suspension, where he ought to be doing something but hasn’t put it together; so he’s just standing there, lost. He’s unkempt to begin with by my standards – but I will admit to a neurotic hypersensitive attention to cleanliness – but I truly have a problem watching a grown man walk away nonchalantly from a spill he created as if it isn’t there. What is that all about?
He’s had his day in court and so is scheduled to be transferred to the penitentiary in a few days. I thought I could hold out, that I could simply grit my teeth and bear it, but it doesn’t seem possible. I am about to explode.
Nonetheless, we made it through the night. I was probably a lot less talkative in the morning than usual which in itself must be frightening, because from the prospective of my colleagues, I never talk anyway. But I was frustrated, and I was frustrated with my celly. He is either snoring at a decibel level that is impossible to take, whistling because he somehow purses his lips when he sleeps – and he’s always sleeping, or shitting on himself.
And guess which of the three showed up at lunchtime. Just as I had finished preparing my bologna sandwich, which consists of having the mod worker put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to burn off some of the fat and applying mustard, Mike lets out an, “uh-oh!”
“What,” I asked, “you all right?”
“You’re not going to want to hear it.”
“That I had another accident. This time though it’s real wet up here.”
Fortunately for us both, the doctor kicked in rather than the cell mate. “Don’t move,” I said. “The last thing you want to do is spread it around. First let me call the tower to get what we need to clean it up.” I moved to the intercom and pushed the button.
“What’s your emergency?” was the deadpan response.
I explained our dilemma as best I could without going in to details. I was still respecting “doctor-patient privilege”. Lucky for us it was Officer Stewart, who while a disciplinarian, is also a human being. He told us he would alert the floor officer.
I turned back to Mike. “OK,” I said, “What I want you to do is roll your blankets away from you toward the foot of the bed. It’s important to roll them so we keep everything confined. Don’t move around; just roll the blanket off you.” After about three slow and awkward tries he finally got the blanket to the foot of the bed. “Don’t sit up,” I warned, “Move as little as possible… Now take the top sheet and put it between your legs. Raise your hips and slide out of your underwear.” It was painful to watch because his movements were so slow and unsteady. It was as if he were 90 and not 50. “Now when you get your underwear off, just leave them where they are.”
“All right”, he said.
“Now grab the sheet at the foot of the bed and you’re going to strip it off the mattress and roll it toward your butt. The whole idea is to keep the stool right where it is. If you try to get up and make it to the toilet, you’ll contaminate the entire cell.”
Just then the module workers arrived with the cleaning cart. Sympathetically, I assured them they would not have to clean it up. They left the cart and were more than happy to take a seat on the other side of the day room. The problem, however, for my bunky, was that his secret was now over. The entire module now knew he had soiled himself. I actually felt sad for him because the one thing you can’t show around here is weakness. These guys will eat you alive.
After he had rolled up his sheet, I left the cell for the day room. I informed the guard I would need a brown paper bag – which he got me – and asked that my cellmate be allowed to take a shower. The guard consented and suggested that it happen right now because he was leaving, and would be replaced by another guard in forty-five minutes who might not be as sympathetic. When I turned from the day room door, my bunky was already making his way toward the showers.
I thought that was a good thing until I got back to the cell with the brown paper bag. He had left the sheet sitting on his bunk. I placed the bag on the bed and went to sit in the day room with the mod workers who were already discussing the issue with my colleagues in cell 13.
When Mike got out of the shower, I posed a question, “Why would you shower before you finished cleaning up? There was only that “deer in the headlight stare. He had nothing to say. He just stared like nothing was registering, like his brain had simply shut down.
The mod worker stuck his head in and said a bed roll would be up shortly. I suggested that Mike put the sheets in the bag, take the contents out for disposal, and wash his hands out in the disposal area – which also served as the sink for inmates to get drinking water because a small microwave was adjacent to it.
I sprayed his mattress with a disinfectant, then suggested he wipe it down and turn it over before putting his new bedding on it. He did, and when he finished, thanked me. In his beaten pathetic way, he climbed back to the upper bunk and drifted off back to sleep.