California Prisoners Affected By Drought

Recent California drought force officials to impose prisoner restrictions on water usage for showers and washing.

In light of California’s worst drought ever, The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), has implemented the most severe water restrictions, affecting state prisoners ability to shower. A statewide CDCR memorandum issued to all 33 prisons mandates that prisoners are only afforded a 5-minute shower, 3 times a week (Tuesday, Thursdays, Saturday), between specific times. Additional restrictions prohibit prisoners from washing any clothing items while showering (boxers, t-shirts, jackets, blankets), as well as “bird bathing” in the cell, only allowing the use of a washrag to wipe off during non-shower days. The only exception is all critical workers, those who work in laundry, kitchen, Prison Industry Authority, or Yard Crew doing manual labor; they are to be afforded a shower daily.

With only two guards supervising a cellblock of 200 men, is it really possible though to enforce the mandate and make sure that prisoners don’t shower? Of course, in a den of criminals, manipulation comes into play. An inmate can sneak a quick shower in while the guards perform the hourly cell to cell unlock, or during the 25 minute shift change when no guards are walking the tier. An inmate can also pretend to be a critical worker. Any prisoner caught showering more than 5 minutes, washing clothes, or bird bathing in the cell can face disciplinary action, by being issued a CDC-115 Rules Violation Report. That could be 30 days added to his prison sentence.

At the CTF Facility where I am housed, water conservation efforts started years ago with the installation of timers on cell toilets, which allow only 2 flashes every 5 minutes. Flush a third time, the toilet locks up for one hour. In a place where men can’t read not tell the time, it can be frustrating when a cellmate flashes 3 times, locking up the toilet, while dookies remain in the toilet, stinking up the cell. Ironically, the showers do not have timers to this date and thus, it is common to see one prisoner showering while all 4 nozzles are on, wasting hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water. So does this latest effort of water conservation really make a difference?

The CDCR memorandum also prohibits prison groundkeepers or inmates from watering grass or plants, entirely. At CTF, there was once luscious manicured lawns, made possible by dumping thousands of gallons of water daily via hoses and sprinklers. Today, the grass all around the prison is dead. Looks like a desert wasteland. Prison recreation yards have not one flower in sight and all inmate gardens are extinct. What I have noticed lately though is a lot more inmates stink; dayrooms reek of body odor and ass. Most prisoners are too lazy to shower daily and if a guy misses one of the 3 scheduled days a week, well, he might go 3-5 days till his next shower. Condition a man to think a shower is not important and you end up with unsanitary conditions, spreading diseases or rashes like scabies.

Each state prison, including CTF, does allow a prisoner to send his personal clothing in a laundry bag to the laundry department weekly. However, the average inmate is lazy and does not take the time to simply place his laundry in a bag and have it ready for pick-up, then wait a day or two to get it back. Many inmates take pride in washing their clothes in the shower daily, right after a workout; very convenient that way. Without this option it means more men will wear dirty clothes, which leads to more stench. There is no worse smell than a prisoner coming of the recreation yard sweating profusely. If you were that inmate in need of a shower to rinse off, would it suffice if you were only allowed to use a washrag to wipe down in your cell?

In conclusion, like so many scenarios in prison, it comes down to cost/benefit decisions. Criminal thinking comes into play on getting around the water restriction and making that shower happen, without getting a write-up. Guards are put in a position to enforce a rule that they overall may believe is inhumane and unsanitary, and don’t want to be perceived as the bad guys if they punish a prisoner showering too long, on an unscheduled day, or washing his clothes. The administration is only looking out for the numbers, trying to please their bosses that water consumption has gone down.

While most people in society are making a tradeoff whether to water their lawn or take a shower, the most important decision-makers in Sacramento are too busy worrying about building a bullet-train from Frisco to Los Angeles rather than building an aqueduct to bring water from Northern California to the south. Nevertheless, California prisoners are doing their part to conserve water during this unprecedented drought by keeping the stench to a minimum.

Will California lawmakers get their priorities straight and do their part?

Written by anonymous while doing time in California.