Cleaning in progress sign laying on a tile floor
Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

Solitary confinement, or the hole, should be the cleanest place in every prison.

Why?

Because when you’re stuck inside a tiny cell for 23 hours a day, there’s nothing better to do than spot clean. If you don’t want to leave it cleaner for the next person, then at least clean it out of respect for yourself.

If you’ve been to the hole before, you know the porter in charge of caring for the space is only interested in curb appeal, not a true deep-clean. So don’t assume the porter will do it for you.

Just because we call it the hole doesn’t mean we have to treat it like a hole. We should treat it like a church, a temple or a hospital room, where healing requires cleanliness. At least treat it like your mother’s house on Mother’s Day.

I like to compare my perspective on this to the controversial concept of “broken windows policing,” which holds that if you don’t enforce the little rules, disciplinary infractions will increase and soon the big rules will be shattered. In other words, if the environment you live in is filthy, you are more likely to behave in a filthy manner.

But there are other benefits. Cleaning your segregation cell can be meditative. Every time I have been to the hole, I have used the solitude to quiet myself. It’s a chance to get in touch with your spirit. Reset. Catch up on reading, write some letters — both activities are productive and healthy.

As a matter of fact, I am writing this story from the hole. I just finished cleaning. I selfishly started with the floor because I want to do yoga — I’m getting stiff. Cleaning the floor felt so good that I couldn’t stop. It is a small area, but the more I scrubbed the more I noticed it needed cleaning. Years of gunk had piled up.

The immature graffiti tags were eliminated next. Colgate toothpaste on a wet rag took that off easily. Now my hole smells minty fresh. Aromatherapy for my yoga sesh.

It needs to be said that solitary confinement is considered cruel and ineffective by many, particularly when used for long periods of time. According to a Yale University report, anywhere from 55,000 to 62,000 people were held in isolation in prison for an average of 22 hours a day for 15 days.

The hole is disproportionately used against Black and Brown men, and thousands of people spend months, years or even decades locked in the hole. Prolonged exposure to solitary confinement has been connected to a number of mental health problems, including increased anxiety, paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But I also believe the hole can be a place for healing, as it has been for me. Many have turned away from destructive behavior after a stint in the hole. I wanted to do yoga to feel better mentally and physically, which led me to clean, and then cleaning became a sacred prayer of its own for me. Staring at freshly cleaned walls is much better than staring at dirty walls.

Every segregation unit should have a cleaning kit available upon request. If you have cleaned your cell, I want to thank you. If not, please scrub and wipe every disgusting spot of grime and flush it down the drain with the rest of your worries. Inhale, then exhale.

When I pass this cell to the next person, it’ll be immaculate. Instead of writing on the wall, I’ll write a letter for the next person who lives in this cell. I will tell them that I cleaned the cell for me and for them. I will tell them that I hope cleaning makes them feel as good as it made me feel.

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.

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Timothy Wakefield

Timothy Wakefield is a writer incarcerated in Colorado.