It has been 75 days since I used the bathroom in private.
Let me be more specific:
I have spent the last 75 days peeing, pooping and showering in front of an audience whose size ranges from 2 people to 50 people.
I am in prison. The concept of privacy does not exist here.
When I started my prison sentence in the Federal Prison Camp in Victorville, CA, the camp was set up in traditional dorm style living with a large communal living space and bathroom. My first prison cell was a 2-person unit, a cubicle, with short 5-ft high walls in an open room that housed 140-170 other women. There was one large bathroom for all of us with roughly 12 toilets and showers and both had doors and walls.
The bathroom was arranged in typical public restroom fashion and has about the same amount of privacy you would expect if you were showering or using the toilet at your local Walmart.
Victorville was my introduction to prison life and adjusting to communal living was difficult. I was thankful to have the little privacy that the walls and doors afforded but it was very hard to get used to having to use the toilet with 4-10 people around at all times.
From Victorville, I went to a CCA facility in Pahrump, Nevada. I consider Pahrump the worst of the facilities I have been to (outside of Rikers Island).
In Pahrump, the housing areas are self-contained living units with the bunk beds, eating area, toilets and showers all located within the same open room with no separation for any of them. Everything in this facility is out in the open with an even lesser degree of privacy than Victorville.
The toilets in Pahrump faced the living area and only had short 3ft high walls. There were no doors, however there was a clear plastic sheet draped in front of the toilet.
The showers were also out in the open and had short 4.5ft high walls with clear plastic sheets in front. There was no room to hang your towel or clean clothes so you had to come out of the shower naked, grab your towel and dry off and get dressed outside in the open room for everyone to see.
The facilities in Pahrump were highly uncomfortable because anytime you want to use the shower or use the toilet you are literally face-to-face with the other inmates using the same facilities.
My first time using the toilet in Pahrump was surreal (and mortifying) because I had to walk by the women peeing and they didn't put the clear flaps in front of their door so I could see everything. I just looked down and tried to give them their space. The same could be said about my first shower experience here because the walls weren't high enough to cover my chest and I had to come out soaking wet and grab my towel and get dressed. And there was a line for the shower so I had to do this in front of about 4 people.
My final stop and current destination is the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, CA. This is a real prison and built for women who have very lengthy sentences so the accommodations are a little bit more comfortable (in a sense).
My current cell is a 3-person unit that has 1 bunk bed and 1 regular bed (we call this the princess bed). Its about 12ft long by 9ft wide which is tiny considering 3 people have to live there. There is a toilet at the entrance of the cell that is out in the open; it does not have doors or a wall. There is also a mirror and a sink. The showers are outside of the cell in the hallway facing the lobby where 80-100 women hangout, however, there is only a shower curtain that provides privacy.
Now that I'm in my final residence, I only have to get used to using the toilet in front of an audience of 2...my bunkies. It is a different type of adjustment to sit on the toilet and do your business while having a conversation with a complete stranger.
Since the toilet is out in the open there is not much I can do for privacy except ask my bunkies to give me a moment by myself. This is really just faux privacy since there is a big window in the door for women to look thru and dozens of women in the hallway outside in the shower line (we have to line up for the showers which are outside my door).
It is very difficult to get your body on a schedule that allows you to get the cell to yourself to do your business. As much as I tried, it ended up making me physically sick and I just had to allow my body to relieve itself on its own time rather than trying to stick to a schedule.
In all honesty, this meant having to give up the last tiny shred of pride I have left.
My small saving grace, if you can call it that, is the understanding of prison etiquette 101...the art of the flush (this is a must-know for anyone heading to prison and I wish a requirement for all public restrooms).
The basic rule in prison is that if you are using the toilet, as soon as you start making any bodily noise, you should flush. And you keep flushing until you are done. This applies to peeing, gas and bowel movements.
The toilets in prison are commercial grade and flush with an extreme amount of water and noise. They are capable of masking any sound and the quickness in which they flush gets rid of any odor immediately.
Flushing the toilet a dozen times here is common and you don't have to apologize to your bunkies for it since its the considerate thing to do.
And lets face it, this is prison....if you are not considerate to your bunkies you will literally get the shit kicked out of you.
I could not end this piece without touching on an issue most women reading this are probably wondering (sorry guys)...what happens when you are on your period??
Unfortunately, things like PMS are shared with your bunkies. As I said, there is no privacy here. If you have to change a pad or put in a tampon...well, you do it in your cell in front of your bunkie audience. Most of the time your bunkies will be polite and look away. But it's a small room and there is nowhere to go so there is not much that can be done.
Even more horrifying are the strip searches you must endure while on your period. The Officer searching you will make you take out your tampon or remove the pad and just stand there bleeding while they search you (including spreading your buttcheeks while you cough and squat).
There is no shame here and no mercy from the Officers.
Even though I'm now versed in Prison Etiquette 101, I still look forward to the day when I can rebuild my pride and use the toilet in peace.