Linking access to water to work in overcrowded prisons is a mistake – Marin Independent Journal
For five years, I got up at 2 a.m. and worked in the kitchen at San Quentin State Prison, stirring kettles, scraping grates, and scrubbing counters and floors — covering myself in mud. kitchen – just to take a five-minute shower.
I learned to keep a job if I wanted a daily shower. But hundreds of prisoners who live near my home cannot shower daily, despite the fact that outbreaks of diseases such as COVID-19 and norovirus and infestations of bed bugs and scabies are common.
The use of water as a weapon on prisoners by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violates basic human decency and endangers health – especially during a deadly pandemic.
The department is already saving money with toilets that only flush twice an hour; water fountains are closed and bottled water is prohibited. Our water automatically shuts off while we shave and brush our teeth. The sinks in our cells are too small and impractical to clean our whole body. Prison laundry services are also limited.
Detainees should not be forced to work to take a shower. The California task force studying reparations proposals for African Americans recommends that involuntary servitude be abolished in California prisons. Its report, released in June, recommends repealing Section 2700 of the Penal Code, which “shall require of every able-bodied prisoner imprisoned in a state prison as many hours of faithful labor per day and every day during his sentence of imprisonment. imprisonment as may be prescribed by the rules and regulations of the Director of Corrections.
Inmates without jobs – including those pursuing high school or university – are entitled to a five-minute shower on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. To shower every day requires work to help maintain the prison or its industries.
Yet every day, most prisoners jog on the basketball courts, jog on the track, slide in home plate, or engage in other activities in the prison yard. Hundreds of men, drenched in sweat, return to their cramped cells and cannot shower. San Quentin’s cells are reminiscent of slave quarters in the bowels of a ship. As of June 22, California’s prison population stood at 97,201, a third more prisoners than the 35 state prisons designed to hold. California must do everything possible to reduce the population of its overcrowded prisons.
We hear the click of keys as the officers lock the doors to our double bunk cells. Once inside, we sit amidst the stench of moldy flesh, athlete’s foot and moldy laundry. We breathe stale air reeking of dirty mops.
If we shower or even “bath the birds” without permission, we can lose privileges, have our time in prison extended, or be denied parole. These inhumane and manipulative tactics parallel those used in the cotton fields of the Southern plantations during slavery.
California is currently experiencing a severe drought, but rather than prevent non-workers from showering, the department should fix broken water pipes in all prisons, the hundreds of leaky faucets inside cells and showers running all night.
Labor exploitation in California prisons will be exacerbated by drought conditions unless the department is forced to stop depriving prisoners of daily showers in an effort to increase their labor. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation should allow every inmate to shower for five minutes every day, whether working or not, to prevent the spread of disease in overcrowded facilities.
Steve Brooks is a staff writer for the San Quentin News, a publication written and produced by inmates, and an internal member of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Distributed by CalMatters.org.