God knows how, but I slept well my first night on the intake unit. The air conditioning was cranked so high, I hunkered down under the itchy old blanket I dug out of my county-issued bedding/toiletry kit. Ahh, that kit. Constructed of the kind of vinyl once used for slip covers, it is about the size of a new comforter as folded and packaged for sale in stores. In addition to the scruffy blanket, my kit held a pair of worn towels, a plastic pillow, a brown sheet set and what looked like a sandwich bag containing toiletries. These were a sawed off tooth brush designed to defy attempts to fashion it into a weapon, a tube of colorless tooth gel with no added flavor, a small bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap and a tiny comb. The quality of this stuff would draw complaints from even the guests of motels with hourly rates, but who were we, the dregs of society, to protest?
The morning of Saturday, July 23, 2016, I woke up to the sound of the television in the dayroom. It had been left on overnight which was not a problem, but of all channels, the C.O.s had chosen TNT. This must be the worst network on TV. Grimm, Charmed, Bones, Supernatural…no self-respecting inmate would be caught dead watching any of these shows. I’m sure every man on the unit would have preferrred watching the preview channel.
Eventually, the sounds of walkie-talkies and footfalls and buzzers and opening and closing metal gates drowned out whatever absurd dialogue the actors on these shows had actually been paid to recite. At last, I heard a key inserted into the lock on my cell gate. Seconds later, the gate slid open, a trustee shouted “trays up!” over the cell’s threshold and, out in the dayroom, breakfast was served. My cellie is a sleeper. I walked past his prostrate form into the harsh lighting of the dayroom.
I continued to observe the detention center protocol of walking with my head up and looking through people without looking at them. A number of faces were new to me. These men had been placed on the block before the group I was processed with had arrived. The intake block is a temporary housing unit for newly arrived inmates awaiting the results of medical tests, specifically that for tuberculosis. Each man on the unit would spend at least 72 hours there. TB? One guy cracked that he hadn’t heard of a single case reported in the U.S. in over 30 years. Sounded about right to me, but what did I know? I couldn’t even get anyone on the phone the night before.
I grabbed a seat at one of the picnic tables, wolfed down most of my breakfast, stashed the rest in my cell, then grabbed a shower. Afterward, I felt refreshed and ready to face my day. I draped my wet towel over my mattress pad, then sat down to think about what I’d do next. Let’s see…I could continue to sit in the cell or I could go sit at one of the picnic tables in the dayroom. Decisions, decisions.