Prison Teachers Harsh Lessons Part Three

Cell Etiquette

Roll up, Baker,” barked the Guard. “You’re movin’ to down the row to 113.” He turned away and clomped back to the podium. The Department of Corrections (DOC) moved women around like chess pieces. This would be my third cellmate in three months.  Prison Teachers Harsh Lessons Part Three Cell Etiquette

I was nervous as I packed my plastic bags wondering who my new cell mate would be. I dragged my bags to a new cell, the familiar hiss of plastic bags followed me down the row on the first floor. I stopped four doors down, in front of cell 113 and waited for  the guard to call the Bubble and order the cell door open. All eyes in the dayroom were on me. I didn’t know which was worse, staring out at the crowd or turning to see just who was in that cell.

I recognized this woman

The door rolled open. A young black woman was pacing inside, I apologized for coming into her space, “Sorry. I’m your new cellmate.” She shrugged her shoulders,

“Ain’t no extra beds, prison’s full.”

Prison Teachers Harsh Lessons Part Three Cell EtiquetteI recognized this woman. I’d overheard her talking in the dayroom about being an exotic dancer. It was the first time I had been this close to a woman who made her living by taking off her clothes. She walked to the window and looked out at the dayroom, allowing me space to unpack. It did not take long to unpack. Clothes in one tank box, coffee and creamer in the next, toothbrush on the shelf. I quickly made the lower bed and climbed into my bunk, slumping against the wall.

My new cellmate resumed her pacing.

“What you in for?” She asked.

Manslaughter II/DUI Car Accident

I gave her the speech: Man II/DUI car accident. Seventy five months, no good time.

She nodded her head and seemed satisfied. “I am here for fighting. I got mittens.” She held up her fists. She looked down at her balled up hands and tucked them under her armpits, like she had to place them in a safe, locked place. Then she turned away and leaned on the wall, gazing out the cell window. “I been down about a year. Crimes up in here be all over the place. A lot of cluster fuck robberies for drugs, lots of I.D theft and murder. As long as you ain’t in here for a child crime, we’ll get along O.K.”

I took in her frame as she faced outward. She was short and curvy. Her waist was tiny, like a corset, then blossomed into a round rump. My God, you could set a tea cup on that thing. I bet she can kick too. I just kept staring at her well muscled arms and balled up fists. I could feel my heart beating.

“What’s your name?”


“You ain’t never been in prison before, have you Kaaren?” She drew out my name.

“No.” I hoped that was the right answer.

“Uh huh.”

Livin’ in a cell means you gotta take care of yourself, not let yourself go

She didn’t tell me her name. We all could see the last name on our I.D.’s. They were on the lanyards around our neck, but the last name was what the cops called us.   

She resumed pacing. She stopped at the mirror and turned her head side to side to check her face and hair. She was exotic, like her profession. She had large black eyes and a pouty bottom lip. “Livin’ in a cell means you gotta take care of yourself, not let yourself go. If you look a hot mess, all the nasty stank of a women’s prison is gonna be blamed on you.” She did not make eye contact but went back to pacing, like a school teacher.  “Make an attempt. You gotta shower every day, change your shirt and underwear, wear deodorant, brush you teeth. Don’t be sneezin’ and coughin’ all over the cell. Pick up after yourself. Don’t put wet clothes in your laundry bag.”

“Okay.” I said meekly, like a child. But my new cellmate was about 19, 20 at the most. I wondered who taught her this stuff. Did she learn from other inmates or did she have a mother who taught her the basics of personal care?

Ain’t nobody gonna wanna live with a thief

“Never, never touch my stuff. I will share if you need it, but if you be touchin’ and taking peoples’ property, you gonna do some hard time. Ain’t nobody gonna wanna live with a thief.” She went back to the window. She said all this matter of fact. Not mean, not threatening. I was actually relieved. At least we had some ground rules and I knew she would tell me what I needed to learn. I did not want to meet those mittens. I planned on walking out through the fences of prison with all my teeth.

Prison Teachers Harsh Lessons Part Three Cell EtiquetteShe stopped pacing, faced me, mittens on hips, “One last thing, Kaaren, anyone taught you a courtesy flush?”


“When you gotta take a crap, you gotta sit all the way back on that cold ass toilet seat and make a booty seal with yo’ ass. Then you flush. It be cold.” She shook her head,

“You might have to flush more than once. You do what it takes cuz no one wants to be smelling your shit.”

“Okay!” I’m sure my eyes were the size of dinner plates. My God I just met this person and she’s telling me how to have a bowel movement. I had no idea there was prison etiquette for poop.

The doors of the cell opened for line movement and she went out into the dayroom, no goodbye, no backward glance. The lecture was over. I watched her round black bottom moving through the tables in a staccato beat: boompity, BOOM, boompity BOOM, the booty seal queen.

The prison spent good money on a powerful plumbing system

While she was gone I brushed my teeth, sniffed my pits, and gave myself a little bird bath. I reviewed the protocol of a proper booty seal: sit all the way back on the seat, and use my legs in the gaps. The prison spent good money on a powerful plumbing system. A back up would be unthinkable. The stainless toilets were connected to an enormous cavern of plumbing tunnels so when you flushed, the noise was like the call of the dinosaurs. Here goes. Whoo-eee! It was a blast from the arctic tundra, and moist. I stood and checked, I had a tender butt hickey but everything went down, matter, tissue and odor. Small price to pay for peace.

Prison Teachers Harsh Lessons Part Three Cell Etiquette

Prison Teachers Harsh Lessons Part Three Cell Etiquette