Every Thursday morning in my cell house, dirty clothes are picked up. Prisoners in maximum security do not have access to washers and dryers. Instead, we are given mesh bags to put our laundry in, and all of the bags are collected and washed together in large, industrial sized machines. The bags are collected at about 2 a.m., and are usually returned the following day. Bed sheets are also collected, washed, dried and returned. Men write their cell numbers on their bags and sheets, so prison workers know where to return them.
Picking up and distributing all the laundry of a cell house is a big job, and I reckon that is why it is collected by the midnight shift workers. The only other work done by that shift is passing out breakfast, and collecting trash. There are almost 300 prisoners in this cell house, and while not everyone has their laundry picked up, some put out more than one bag. I always put two bags on my bars to be collected. Rather than collect the bags on the upper galleries, and drag it all down, the workers just throw it off the balcony onto the first floor. If you are awake, and living on the lower gallery, you will hear all the bags hitting the floor with thumps. When all the bags are lying on the first floor, they are collected into enormous mattress bags. The mattress bags are then put on a cart or two, and wheeled to the prison laundry building.
Distributing the laundry is more difficult than picking it up. Workers cannot toss laundry down from the upper galleries, but must bring it up manually. First, however, inmate workers must sort the hundreds of bags and sheets. They do this by tossing the bags into five piles, one for each floor. Then the piles are collected into the large mattress bags, and laboriously brought up to the upper levels. The gallery worker on the first floor has an easier job than the others, who are usually sweating by the time they are done passing out each bag.
Our laundry service used to be very bad before changes were made about a year ago. On level 1 lockdowns, guards refused to do the work, and our laundry was not picked up. Our laundry also returned sometimes dingier than when we put it in because they did not use bleach, or apparently enough soap. Laundry often came back burnt from being in the dryer too long, or wet from not being in long enough. Finally, many bags and sheets went missing or were ripped open by thieves. Sometimes, laundry is returned damp, but the service is a big improvement from what it used to be.
Many inmates refuse to set out their laundry because they do not like the idea of their clothes being washed with the rest of Stateville's inmates. Some also are concerned that their clothes will be stolen, or do not like having to wait until Thursday to have their clothes washed. Now that bleach is used, I am not concerned about my laundry mingling with others. I don't worry about my clothes being stolen, because I would not care much if they were. I only send out state supplied socks, tee shirts, and boxers, plus my old sweatpants or sweatshirts, on occasion, both of which have my name boldly printed on the inside with black magic marker. If someone wants to steal my boxers or socks, he is truly a man in need, and he can have them. There are, however, certain clothes I will not send out, and I wash them in my cell.
Once, or sometimes twice, a week, I will wash a small batch of clothes by hand. I never send out my state blues because they come back quite wrinkled, and I only have one button-up shirt, and one pair of blue trousers. I could have more, but in order to save space in my box, I only keep one set. Thus, I wash and dry these myself. I also will hand wash my store-bought tightie whities. These boxer briefs are 100% cotton, and I don't want them to shrink in the dryer and become any tighter. Finally, I wash my shorts because I use these to exercise in, and I only have one pair. I will usually wash these twice a week.
It is not an easy task to wash any sizable amount of laundry in your cell. We are permitted to purchase laundry detergent, however, we have limited ways to soak, rinse, or dry our clothes. Our sinks also dribble out water, having very low water pressure. Most inmates will take their property out of their correspondence boxes, and slowly fill it up with mugs of water. After washing their clothes, they will tediously rinse them in the dribble of water. I have had cellmates that spend many hours washing and rinsing their clothes. This process takes too long for me, and although some may find it disgusting, I have a much quicker system.
I begin by scrubbing out the toilet with soap and disinfectant. Removing all the water, I place a garbage bag in it. I pour some detergent in the bag and slowly fill it up with hot water from the sink. I begin washing my clothes as I fill the toilet. When it is filled, I pull out the bag and place it in the sink. I take the first article of clothing and rinse it out in the toilet, adding new water by flushing. This is a much more efficient system than using the sink, and I can clean my laundry in less than a fifth of the time. Other prisoners also use this time saving system.
Years ago, the prison administration told us we could not put up lines to dry our clothing on. Thus, we now must come up with unique ways to dry our clothes. Some men will take the lids off their boxes and drape clothes over them, and turn on a fan. Others will disregard the rules, and set up temporary lines, risking a disciplinary ticket. The quickest way I have figured out to dry clothes, and not break the rules, is by attaching the clothes to the fan and having the air blow through them. My paints, shorts, and boxer briefs all have waist bands that fit around my fan. This method of drying is even quicker than a line because the fan forces air through the fabric. The only setback is that you can only dry one item at a time. Between my cellie and I, we have three fans. I can usually dry my clothes very quickly, unless it is humid or cold in the cell house.
It is lowly to wash one's clothing in a toilet bowl. Once a tour came through while I was rinsing and ringing out some clothing from the toilet. I assumed they thought it was disgusting. However, life in prison is not pretty. I dislike washing clothes, and the sooner I can get it done and over with, the better. I do not have the luxury of convenience that those outside these walls have. My life is oppressive, crude, and typically void of pleasantries or joy.