I knew the toilet was malfunctioning. Over the weekend, I had noticed it did not always work. I was not terribly concerned about it. If it went out, I would just piss in the sink and use a Styrofoam tray for other waste matter until the toilet was repaired. Over the many years of my incarceration, I have gone without a toilet. I have even been put in cells with no working plumbing, and simply did what I had to. There are plenty of things which disturb me in prison, but a broken toilet is not one of them. For my cellmate, however, a broken toilet was close to a shattered universe.
I went about my morning ritual, washing my face, brushing my hair, and eating breakfast while flipping through the morning news programs. For breakfast yesterday, we were given two stale waffles and two containers of generic corn flakes. I had saved them, and spread some commissary peanut butter on the stale waffles, and with spoon-cut slices of a banana saved from lunch the day before on them. I then ate my waffles like two large crackers. I also chopped some banana chunks into my cornflakes and added commissary peanuts as well. While I ate my breakfast, my cellmate went to the toilet to test it. It did not work initially. The second time he pressed the button, it did flush, however. My cellmate told me we should have the guards put in a work order for it, and I agreed.
After eating and brushing my teeth, I went to use the toilet. I used my bed sheet for a privacy curtain, as I always do. First, I flushed the toilet to make sure it worked. I did not want to be scooping out a Snicker bar, although giving my cellmate a "Caddy Shack" moment did amuse my thoughts. After washing my hands, I wiped the inside of the sink of residual water with tissue paper and threw it into the toilet. I pressed the button, but the toilet did not flush. I noticed my cellmate's eyes go wide as I pressed it time and time again, as nothing happened.
I told him not to be concerned--we'll just have to piss in the sink, and defecate on closeable Styrofoam breakfast trays until the plumber gets around to fixing it. Before I could make a joke about sending them down to this old white man to whom I always give my turkey bacon, my cellmate adamantly said he was not pissing in the sink, and he would rather hold it before he used a Styrofoam tray. He went on to say it would be impossible for him to use a tray anyway because his stool was not solid. I told him to line the toilet with a plastic bag then, or ask the guard to let him out so he could use one of the storage room toilets, but it was unrealistic to believe you can hold your excrement for what may be days. He told me he refused to use the maintenance rooms and he will bother guards all day until they bring a plumber. I informed him it was Presidents Day and he has a better chance of living to see his out-date than of seeing a plumber on a holiday.
My cellmate refuses to urinate in the sink because he has an irrational phobia about germs and an obsession with keeping the sink clean, or at least looking clean. Like most normal people, I rinse my mouth out after brushing my teeth in the sink. My cellmate, however, will spit into the toilet, and has made it clear to me that what I do is disgusting. I have tried to reason with him, pointing out that we wash our hands in the sink regularly, and the germs on our hands are just as many, if not more than, in our mouths. I brought to his attention that he rinses his toothbrush out in the sink, and thus the same germs are going into the sink, but this does not matter to him. I told him how we wash our dishes in the sink, and our faces as well. We even wash our entire bodies in the sink, but none of this matters to him.
My cellmate has an obsession with wiping the sink of any water. Every time he uses the sink, he wipes it dry. Even after I use the sink, he will wipe it out. I have repeatedly told him that he is only spreading the germs to all parts of the sink unless he uses soap and scrubs the sink, as well as the rag, which he does not. However, this doesn't matter to him. Apparently, as long as he cannot see the germs, they do not exist.
What is most absurd and aggravating about my cellmate's compulsion to wipe the sink of every drop of water is that he uses the same rag to continually do so throughout the day--he never washes the rag. The "sink rag" will continually stay wet, and becomes a breeding ground for germs. I scrub it with soap and disinfectant and then dry it with my fan once a day to prevent that from happening. I have my own quirks, however, such as being very neat, ordered, and always having to put things away or in their correct place. Thus, I have entertained my cellmate's foolish phobia of germs and water in the sink. I now always rinse my mouth out and spit into the toilet, and then wipe any water from the sink. I often use toilet paper, however, to wipe out the sink, which bothers my cellmate. He calls toilet paper "white gold" and hoards it like a Leprechaun covets his pot of gold.
My cellmate stood at the bars waiting for a guard to pass by for over an hour. Finally, he went on his bunk to read, and I sat by the bars reading the newspaper. Eventually a guard came by, and I asked him if he was assigned to our gallery. He said he was, and asked what I needed. I told him about the toilet, and he pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. He told me he would put in a work order. My cellmate asked if we could see a plumber that day, and the guard said he'd try. When I went out for lunch, my cellmate told me to speak with the lieutenant about our toilet, and press him about getting it repaired. I listened to him, but I was not going to do that. The lieutenant does not want to be bothered about a toilet, and in any event, there is nothing he can do. Even if I were to run into the warden, no one can force the plumber to fix a toilet on a holiday. On my way back from chow, however, I asked the guard if he was able to reach anyone. He told me no one was answering the phone, but he would try again later. Back in my cell, my cellmate asked me if I spoke with the lieutenant, and I told him no. I went on to say the officer working our gallery was a responsible person, and if a plumber can be reached, I am sure he will.
Close to noon, my cellmate told me he had to piss. I told him to piss in the sink. He told me that was disgusting and he would urinate in a water bottle before he did that. The cell house sergeant walked by soon thereafter, and my cellmate asked him if he could use the toilet in one of the storage cells. The sergeant let him out, and I followed. I figured that I would make my cellmate happy and not piss in the sink. However, if I had to piss later in the day and there was no guard available to unlock my door, I was going to piss in that sink whether or not he liked it.
Presidents Day came and went, and no plumber arrived to fix our toilet. Several times, my cellmate told me how a plumber must be kept on the premises in case of an emergency. He must have been daydreaming in Never Never Land. He certainly was not in Stateville. Here, nothing is done timely--not the mail, not medical care, not visitation, not movement lines. Even if a pipe burst in the back of the cell house, no plumber would be there to fix it on a weekend or holiday. In fact, on several occasions in the last few years, pipes have burst, and they went unrepaired for days. I once heard a torrent of water like a waterfall when I woke up one morning. I put my ear to the vent to listen better, and then looked through. I could see the water falling from above and crashing on the cement floor. There was a drain hole in the floor behind my cell and the water was pouring down into it. I notified a couple of guards about the matter, and they told me they already knew. The plumbers did not show up for almost a week, and only when my neighbor's cell began to flood and water went out onto the gallery.
In the year 2000, I was in Stateville's now-condemned I House. On a few occasions, I was placed in cells with no working plumbing. I notified guards about the matter, and weeks would pass. Finally, a sergeant moved me to another cell. I learned later that another unfortunate prisoner was moved into that same cell, without any repairs having been made. I was once in a cell that not only had no working plumbing, but no electricity. I remember reading from the moonlight that came through the window at night. I House is built differently than the general population cell houses. I House has no cell bars, and therefore no light comes from the gallery lights. Your cell is pitch black if you do not put your cell light on. It is nice not to have the gallery noise and to have privacy, but the cells in I House were prone to have electric, plumbing and heating problems. Eventually, the entire house was condemned by the federal courts.
This morning, when the guards did their head-count, my cellmate complained again about our toilet not working. The guard was our regular gallery officer, and he said he'd look into the matter. My cellmate asked if he could use one of the maintenance room's toilets, and our door was unlocked. My cellmate ran down the gallery so quick that by the time I got up and left the cell, he was gone. As I passed by one of the first cells on the gallery, a prisoner we know asked me from his bars where the fire was. I told him that my cellmate has probably been holding his urine for hours. He asked me if he was not flying down the gallery to take a crap, and I said I didn't think so. I informed him that my cellmate had restricted his diet the day before and says he will not defecate until the plumber fixes our toilet. The person I was speaking with works at the barbershop with my cellmate, and knows him well. He was amused by my cellmate's childishness and he said he hoped the plumbers did not fix our toilet for days.
Later in the morning, before details and passes were let out, I asked the gallery officer to use the washroom. I brought some toilet paper with me, and told my cellmate he is going to have to use the toilet eventually, so he may as well go now before he goes out to his assignment. He told me again how he was going to wait the plumber out. When I returned, he asked me how I could sit on such a nasty toilet. The maintenance and storage cells were not very clean--the toilet and sinks also have rust and mineral deposits on them. I told him it was not like I was putting my lips on the toilet bowl, I was putting my ass on it. Furthermore, I placed some toilet paper on it. I went on to say he had better go now because later in the day the female counselor may be in the office and it is directly outside the cells we had been using. The office has a large window and from anywhere in the room one can see into the cells. My cellmate said he would ask the guard to let him use the officer's bathroom. I did not even reply to that. He knew very well they were not going to let him use the officer's bathroom.
My cellmate went out to work, but before he did so, he reminded me to repeatedly nag the guards about our toilet. I was not going to do anything of the sort, and after he left, I took a piss in the sink. Just like the germs he smears on the sink everyday, what he cannot see will not hurt him. I was beginning to hope the plumber would not show for days so I could witness my cellmate's anxiety grow. Eventually, I knew he would be forced to use the storage room toilet, and he would be sitting there for an hour or more with no privacy curtain. I could imagine him trying to hide behind a box, bucket, or other object. What would make it worse for him is not only his phobia about germs, or using the toilet in public, but for some odd reason, wearing a shirt while he sits on a toilet. So if the counselor or some other person would walk by, he would be stark naked except for his socks and shoes. That would certainly get someone's attention, particularly in one of the storage rooms.
I went about my day like any other. Although nonworking toilets were supposed to be a priority, I did not expect to the see the plumber the day after an order was put in. Around midday, however, a man got my attention by yelling, "big man, big man!!" I had my head phones on and was absorbed in reading stock reports. Finally I took my headphones off, and he asked me if I had a plumbing problem. I told him the toilet button was broken. He replied "we can fix that," and then disappeared. A little while later, I heard him working behind the cell. He was at it for quite some time, and I wondered if he was not trying to pad his bill by wasting time. How complicated could a toilet button be? I went back to studying various corporations' reports. Later, the man appeared at my bars, and asked me if all was good. I went to the toilet and pressed the button twice. It worked. I asked him what the problem was. He said a spring in the button broke. I said, "You were back there a long time for a broken spring." He explained that in order to get to the spring, a lot of parts had to be removed and then reinstalled. I don't know if I believe him, but I thanked him for fixing it.
When my cellmate returned, the first thing he asked was "Did they fix it?" I was going to lie to him, and tell him "no," but the joke would have been short lived with the guard approaching to let him in the cell. He would have certainly asked the guard about a plumber again. Thus, I told him the truth. In that instant, I sensed he thought all was right in the world.
Upon my cell door being unlocked, my cellmate quickly went to the back of the cell and began to hand wash the toilet seat. Truly, life in prison is dysfunctional, and as out of order as my toilet was earlier today. Unfortunately, there is no plumber who could fix my life as easily.