You’ve been in prison long enough, you’ve had some really gross cellmates. I’ve been listening to Quick try to cough his lungs out for days. Flu? Cold? Germs? Bacteria? Who knows with Quick.

Spreading his latest disease is his hustle. I watched as he coughed mucus in his hand, licked it off, and wiped it on his clothing. He’ll touch you if you let him. I’ve told him I’ll beat him to death if he touches me. He knows I’m serious and avoids me. He’s nasty, but not crazy. There’s a rumor that Quick has stage-III cancer. I heard it over a year ago. He’s still alive and gets no heavy narcotic pain killers, so I’m pretty sure he uses it to get sympathy.

Don’t blame the doctor for his condition. They prescribe decongestants. I saw him sell them. Like so many prisoners, Quick has no one. Texas has no paid work within the prison system. Medication is his hustle. He’ll do his best to stay sick as long as possible to milk our medical providers out of all the drugs he can.

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There are so few prisoners who follow the rules. Quick doesn’t care if he’s charged a $100,000 medical co-payment, he has no money they can take. It was guys like him who caused Texas to start charging a co-payment for medical care in prison. The rest of us have to suffer or buy our medications from Quick and those like him…unless we can afford to pay $100,000.

We’ve seen him wash the bowl he eats from in the filthy dayroom toilet. He picks up dirty towels to tear up and wipe his ass with, claiming he has an infection of his bowels. I’m sure he does. He shits a lot. His cell is next door to mine, I can hear him flush continuously to keep from having to smell his own shit. In the dayroom, he lets it pile up in the toilet to make us all suffer as the fumes permeate the air.

One time, I saw Quick pick up a wad of toilet paper that someone had blown his nose in, slowly straighten it out and wiped it on his hand before pocketing it for future use. He didn’t wash his hands. Later, at lunch he picked up a sandwich with his filthy hands from his tray and give it to someone.

Quick seldom washes his hands and touches everything.I won’t drink out of the water cooler because he touches it too often. He’s not the only nasty person I have to avoid; he’s just the worst one. Quick bothers me because I know he’s very intelligent but he uses it to infect people so they’ll need his medication to avoid paying the $100,000 co-payment.

We also have a guy called Jesus because his hair and beard are so long. Now he is damn sure crazy, we’ve seen roaches crawling in his hair and beard. He smells of a mixture of dirty feet and rotten onion. In the dayroom, he sits in front of the television pushing an imaginary button in the air. A living example of an Old Testament prophet after a few years lost in the wilderness.

The day Jesus showed up at minimum custody he got a disciplinary case for refusing to move into a cell with another person. I respect him for that. He won’t move in with anybody. It was my cell they intended to put him in. He saved me a problem. I’d have had two choices if he moved in because I won’t live with such filth. I could pack and leave, or I could have hurt him and left in handcuffs. Either way, I’d have gotten a disciplinary case. Men who refuse to keep themselves clean can’t live in my cell. They can die there, but not live there. Usually, those like Jesus have had enough problems to recognize when someone like me is serious and walk away.

Seem harsh? My friend Elmer has been trying to get a stinky old man moved out of his cell for weeks. Because Elmer hasn’t hurt him yet, the correctional officers insist on doing nothing. Elmer has been in prison for 45 years, and although there are set rules about personal hygiene, I’ve never seen them enforced consistently by officers. Elmer is a very refined gentleman, people forget why he’s in prison. Since the old man writes grievances on the administration claiming they are trying to kill him; I believe they are punishing Elmer with this. If they can incite Elmer to commit one violent act, they’ll have the excuse they need to never give him parole.

Elmer’s situation makes me think; Since I have a violent background, are all of these problematic cellies a coincidence? Maybe Jesus has committed crimes I’m unaware of. The administration may have wanted him hurt, or perhaps they just wanted me to lose my 38 months without a major disciplinary conviction. That’s a record for me.

They brought Jesus back late that night and put him in a cell by himself. They had to move Nikkie out to move him in. Two days later, they told her she was still assigned to the cell Jesus was in and wanted her to move back in. She refused.

Administrators tend to cater to those like Jesus and Quick. No one likes having a cellie chosen at random. Therefore, only those who live in filth get to live alone out in the general population. The only way I can get single-celled is to go administrative segregation and give up all of my privileges. No doubt the staff hates Jesus, the guards even refuse to let him eat in the chow hall due to his lice-ridden hair. They weren’t going to follow policy and give him a sack meal either. That was until a guy named Tony raised hell about it and threatened to write a grievance for Jesus. The man is just too crazy to realize he has been done wrong, much less write a grievance about it.

It’s Friday. They’ll probably give me another cellie today. I look at the empty bunk, and I wonder what they’ll fill it with this time. I could be locked up before the sun goes down or sharing my cell with a friend closer than a brother.

But, as I said, there are very few prisoners who follow the rules. Not prison rules, Prisoner Rules. They like to say ours is now a new wave type prison. Well, I’m old school and proud of it. Some might call me institutionalized, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong when five simple rules make life so much easier.

Keep your property in your area.
If you keep contraband hidden out in shared space and it gets busted, own your case.
If it’s not yours, don’t touch it without permission.
Keep yourself and your space clean.
We have to share the toilet and the sink, and it’s pure courtesy to clean up after yourself.

It seems so simple to write these down. The key to life in prison is cooperation. I’ve lived with a lot of people in 27 years here in Texas. Many of them I didn’t like at all. Some I didn’t speak to for days at a time. But if they followed the five rules I listed and acted courteously, we got along fine.

While the administrators will always be the ones to choose my cellie, it will be up to me if he stays. Now all I can do is wait and hope for the best while I enjoy a few days of solitude.

Daniel “Dani” Harris