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A bunk and toilet at the West Virginia State Penitentiary.
Photo from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive collection at the Library of Congress.

People in the free world are infatuated with the culture of prison. Since most have never experienced living on the inside themselves, they ask questions about what it’s like: 

What’s the food like? 

Have you ever seen someone shanked to death? (They use the term “shank,” as if they are in the know after hearing it repeatedly on shows like Oz” and “Orange is the New Black.”)

To quickly address those two points: Prison food sucks, and I’ve seen people shanked many, many times.

But the more interesting topic that is never asked about is the matter of bathrooms. Inquiring minds tend to be dumbfounded to discover that I literally live in a bathroom. 

My bed is no less than 7 feet away from the toilet and all the sights, smells and sounds that come along with it. 

My small cell only has three focal points; the main attraction by far is the crapper. This is an ingenious all-in-one sink and toilet with a cubby hole to house your weekly toilet paper allotment, one roll per seven days. 

In my cell, this is located on the right wall, about a third of the way into the room. This placement ensures that when you are in the process of making a bowel movement that could sink a World War II German submarine, your ass will most assuredly be in the line of sight of other people. 

But if you’re pressed for time and need to multitask during your morning routine, fear not. This all-in-one receptacle allows you to brush your teeth and poop simultaneously. All you have to do is sit on the toilet backward and face the sink, which is situated on the back of the toilet. How’s that for efficiency?

One might ask: “So what do you do when you’re locked behind the door and your bunky has to drop a dook?” 

Simple. I stare intently, directly into his eyes, never breaking contact until I hear the toilet flush. If I see any signs of staring back, I will provide him with words of encouragement. This and the concerned gaze lets your bunky know you care. 

Joking aside, we are confined to a space smaller than most free-world closets, so what is it you think I do? 

I get in my bunk, if I’m not there already, and face the wall opposite from where the business is being conducted. I avert my eyes and patiently wait until my bunky is finished. That’s poo-poo etiquette 101 as it applies to close confines and communal living. 

Any residual stench that lingers just becomes part of the penance involved in serving our time. It’s part of the debt I pay to society. 

To look on the bright side: The commode in my cell functions properly … most of the time.

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.

Calen "Wolf" Whidden is a writer incarcerated in Florida.