Editor's Note: This story was originally published with a black-and-white line drawing of the artist's locker. It has since been updated with a color version of the same illustration.
Sixteen-and-a-half cubic feet or 28,512 cubic inches.
When I did the math it seemed like a lot of room, but the reality is that my property locker in the Bureau of Prisons is 24-inches wide, 30-inches deep and 40-inches tall. I’ve seen slightly larger and maybe even smaller lockers, but theoretically, all your personal property has to fit in there. The reality is a bit different.
In the open dorm I currently reside in, you’re allowed to have two laundry bags hanging from your bunk as well as clothes on a hanger, although you cannot buy hangers from the commissary. You’re also permitted to have shoes under your bunk. There is a limitation in the rules but not necessarily strictly enforced.
Sixteen-and-a-half cubic feet really seems like a lot especially when you first come to prison. But then you start buying the essentials such as hygiene products, staple food items, a couple bowls, a coffee cup, and it starts adding up.
Then you get a “locker buddy.” Officially they actually sell them now as a “locker organizer” for $11.45 (I just looked it up on our store sheet!) They attach to your locker door and allow you to put all the annoying little stuff neatly away — pens, brush, plasticware, medicine, toothbrush and toothpaste.
I purchased one of them from the store, but they are fairly durable, made of clear plastic and allowed by the BOP. Most people make or buy one, made from either laundry bags or khaki pant legs. A couple of good ones — and really everyone ends up getting two — will set you back $7 to $10.
Photo albums, letters, sudoku puzzle books, Bibles, reading books — it all easily starts to fill that 16.5 cubic feet rather quickly. Pictures of friends or family, which do you throw away?
Peanut butter, oatmeal, coffee — those are my staple items. We shop every other week, but you never know what they’ll be out of, or when you might be locked down and not allowed to shop, so you stock up.
Most guys always have ramen soups, the 30-cent meal. Sriracha, hot sauce, mayo, and a pair of new shoes you’re saving. That extra sweatshirt Noah gave you when he went home.
Deodorant, razors, Q-tips. That really large tupperware bowl that you really only use to store miscellaneous little things. The note from your grandma, when she was still aware of her surroundings. A box of envelopes, a big folder of “important” documents. Letters from people you haven’t heard from in ten years. The three books you keep in case of a lockdown so you have something to read.
A water bottle, dish soap, lotion. The giant store-bought towel that Christian gave to me. I’ve used it maybe a dozen times. I just can’t seem to part with it. He committed suicide and it just seems wrong to sell it, so I just keep it in my locker.
My running log book, a sketchbook, drawing pencils, ear plugs, glue, baby powder, an extra shower bag with extra hygiene products in it, unopened earbuds, AM/FM radio, ibuprofen, handkerchiefs I’ll draw on, extra glasses, a calculator.
All that and more in 16.5 cubic feet — 13 years of property and my locker is not nearly as full as others. 28,512 cubic inches. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not.
I don’t have my running shoes, shorts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, thermals or any clothing in my locker. I just shove them in the bag hanging from my bunk there.
Two-feet wide, 2.5-feet deep, 3.5-feet tall. All your property. Everything you own. BOP policy. Not an easy task. But doable.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.