Birthday Boy

Today was Bo’s 50th birthday. To celebrate, he bought heroin from a guy in the unit and snorted it while I laid in bed still half asleep. I heard sniffles, and when I rolled over, he turned away from the sink, wiped a tear from his cheek, and said, “All better now. One day when you’re my age, you’ll understand.”

A few hours later, he kneeled beside the toilet and puked into the bowl. He said, “That’s what this shit does to you.”

He vomited all afternoon, a total of five times, and after each sour discharge, he’d repeat, “That’s what this shit does to you.”

Sunday is my cleaning day. It’s a ritual I’ve come to enjoy because it allows me to take ownership, to control something in a place where there is little control to be had. I may not be able to get in a car and drive to the movies, but I can keep my cell clean.

I start with the floors which are concrete. I pick up all sneakers, boots, sandals, and shower shoes and stack them on the lockers and desk. Then I pick up the rubber bands. Bo has a fetish for rubber bands and must have thousands of them tucked away in various places – the Rubber Band Man I call him.

Every unit has its own mops, mop buckets, and brooms, but there’s no telling what belongs to which race. The whites can’t touch the blacks’ broom and the blacks can’t touch the Mexicans’ mop bucket, so rather than risk touching the wrong thing and causing a scuffle, I clean the floor by hand with wash cloths.

Ramen Roger once said that living in a prison cell is like living in a bathroom, and the truth in this statement becomes clear when you’re down on all fours and face-to-face with masses of curly black hairs.

I admit the hairs are mine. Bo is part Swedish and has no hair, whereas I am Italian and have more hair on my back than I do the top of my head.

After I make my first pass over the floor to pick up all the hair and bits of food, I fill my food bowl with hot water and add a small amount of the powdered laundry detergent they sell at the commissary. Then I pour the soapy water over the floor and scrub. After I ring out my wash cloth, I go over the floor one final time to wipe up the detergent and excess water.

While the floor dries, I soap down the small metal sink and sprinkle more detergent into the toilet bowl. Then, by hand, I scrub the inside and outside, flush, rinse, flush, and rinse again.

Once the floor has dried, I put the shoes back in place beneath the bunk bed – mine on the left, Bo’s on the right. Then I go to the guard and swap my inmate ID card for disinfectant spray. It’s the only cleaning supply that all races must share.

I use the disinfectant spray and a clean wash cloth to clean the rest of the surfaces in the cell: desk, chairs, lockers, the polished metal plate above the sink that we use as a mirror, the metal step ladder that leads to my top bunk, and finally the walls.

I noticed while cleaning the wall around the toilet that Bo’s aim had been off, and I had to scour away his dried vomit.

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