By: Daniel H. Harris, Contributing Writer
Eastham is an old prison with a slowly decaying network of pipes to provide water and remove sewage. For one reason or another we are without running water every few months. In the free world this would only be inconvenient. In a prison, well, read on.
They do rolling flushes of each line
Due to the nature of our confinement, we are denied constant access to buy bottled water — and many of us couldn’t afford it anyway. We surely don’t have the option to move if we don’t like where we are.
February 3rd, 2015 is my 23rd anniversary incarcerated in Texas prison. For many reasons, I am happily satisfied with life at Eastham. It’s the only place I’ve been where the guards don’t yell at you every other breath and cuss between. That’s the reason I don’t complain about the water situation. I can find ways to deal with the lack of running water.
Still, the unsanitary conditions are trying. When the water goes off, as it does without notice regularly (in fact it’s off right now although we were given notice of this upcoming disruption of service), it requires all of my ability to improvise to stay calm and survive.
Many of the prisoners living above me on two and three row [cellblocks on the 2nd and 3rd floors above] deal with the lack of a flush by shitting in large chip bags, pissing in old bottles, and throwing the collected waste down to one row where it often burst and other prisoners have to take responsibility for cleaning up their mess. The shitty mess is atrocious and I was almost hit once.
On one row [the bottom floor] we don’t have the option of throwing our mess in another person’s front yard without being seen. Even if I could I should hope I wouldn’t behave in such an uncivilized manner. Mere hours after the water went off this morning there were bags of shit being thrown from above and I heard the janitor complaining about it. No one was fool enough to admit it was their shit. I know the janitor in question and it might be best they were well hidden.
In my world there are only two available options when I have to use the toilet. I always piss in the toilet, but shit either goes in a bag that is then carried down the run to the garbage can or else I just use the toilet and clean up the resulting mess by using my mattress to force flush the waste down the sewage pipe. You just place the end of the plastic coated mattress over the toilet bowl and place your knee in the center to use your weight to force the mattress down and make the shit go down the pipe. The mattress isn’t in the toilet, it’s across the bowl and it seals in the air and you pressurize it by pushing down with your weight in the center and that makes the valve open and lets the sewage out. You can push all the water out of these type toilets, and it’s how guys talk to each other — by pumping out the water and then yelling through the pipe.
I then rinse the sides of the bowl with water saved from my morning wash and cover the remainder with dried bleach and pine oil to cover any lingering odor. I can usually fill all of my containers with water during the five minute rolling flush they provide one row at a time twice daily and still have time to flush and scrub out my toilet so it’s clean the next time it’s needed.
Water conservation takes on new meaning under these conditions. My 3 bowls hold a couple of quarts each and I can shave and bathe in one and save the soapy water to clean and flush the toilet while keeping myself clean as well.
It’s not a perfect solution. Not being able to wash clothes is rough. I remain fairly clean and my environment grows ever more filthy. Seeing those who complain the most about conditions are the ones that put the least effort into staying clean makes you wonder how they lived in the world and why they complain when living in filthy does not seem to bother them one bit. The stench of accumulated waste in the sixty toilets on each line being used by 120 prisoners is impossible to describe so I leave that to your imagination.
The prison system does not provide bleach or pine oil to individual prisoners to clean their cells. We have to buy it on the black market. One of the things I like best about Eastham is that officers seldom enforce rules about bleach and pine oil being contraband and almost never confiscate it or write disciplinary cases about items that their common sense tells them we need to survive the harsh conditions engendered when the water goes off.
Some prisoners refuse to learn how to handle life without running water. It’s irritating when I have to use my mattress to flush another man’s shit because he is too lazy or too stupid to do it himself. I have little patience with either of these faults.
It’s stressful to live in these conditions and the most surprising thing is that no prisoner, to my knowledge, has been beaten to death over some shitty incident during one of these periods when we had no running water. I’ve had bags of shit miss me by inches while I was standing out on the run and I’m sure other prisoners have experienced near misses also. You could hardly blame a man for losing his temper over that if he got hit.
Prisoners complain and rumors multiply that Eastham is going to be shut down. The first I heard of this rumor was when I first arrived here in March of 2011. I had to question this theory when I noticed the free world crew in the process of re-roofing the entire prison. That’s a large expenditure for a prison intended to be shut down any time soon.
Learning not to argue with my fellow prisoners about their mistaken assumptions makes my time easier. You can’t convince them of anything they don’t want to believe. We are still here 4 years later and the rumors persist that Eastham is slated for closing in the near future. I just smile and try to avoid stepping on the bags of shit where they land.
Guys that want to leave Eastham, and so hope it will close, are the ones that have never done time in a hard prison. Those, like myself, that know the odds, favor any move will take you to a much more dangerous and violent environment.
A dependable water supply would be nice. I can get by without it if I have to as long as Eastham remains the elegant lady she is where men can do their time in relative peace.
Daniel Harris is serving 35 years in Texas for Attempted Capital Murder.
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Daniel H. Harris #00622851
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886