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Video by Sarah Rogers for Prison Journalism Project

The cell I’m in now is just like the one I made for you. I’d like to show you around. 

Let’s start with the lid, the top of the cell. When the lid is on and you look in the closed front door, towards the back of the cell, you can see how the light beams through the back window and drapes across the table and bed. 

This actually happens. Outside every back window are bright stadium lights. If you’re on the bottom bed and you lay with your head by the toilet, the light will shine right in your face. 

Next, we go into the cell. You’ll see a towel that used to be a shower towel. Now I use it to clean the floor — add some water and some shampoo, and you’ve got a mop.

See the white shower shoes? We wear them to prevent falling in the shower and from getting fungus. 

On the floor by the toilet, it says, “Sit down to pee, so it don’t splash.” When you pee standing up, droplets will bounce out of the toilet and land on the cell wall. Next to the toilet, it says, “Drop one, flush one.” This includes passing gas, to alleviate the smell — the cell is small and there is not really much air.

On top, you’ll see it says, “Brown is beautiful.” As a boy, my grandma used to call me racial names, and it still impacts me.

My picture is also posted there. Those of us who have been sent to die here look at photos of ourselves kind of as a way to prove we exist. It’s like saying, “Ha! I told you I was real!” or “I’m still alive.”

Below my picture is a Hostess Zinger, a pastry I used to love.

On the table are letters. If I get mail, this is where I respond to them.

My fan is nearby, too, to blow-dry my boxers.

Now let’s go over to the bed. I sleep on the bottom. The mattresses are 3.5 inches thick, and they’re not very comfortable. The metal bed frame is 30 inches wide. Lying down, you can’t even stretch out both arms. Some guys on the top bunk tie themselves to it by their wrist so they don’t fall off. 

Sleeping alone sucked in the first decade, but now I’m used to it. 

On the top bunk, I wrote “vacancy” because I haven’t had a cellie during the pandemic. On the bed is also a copy of the newspaper PJP Inside with the top story an allusion to a dream: “Milo Set Free!” I covered the top pillow in a COVID-19 mask to represent the times.

It says “HUMAN” on the end of the bed, in case people forget.

Above the doorway is something about the American Kennel Club. If you get the formula and apply it to the average man’s size, you will see that dogs get, on average, way more room for a cage than humans do. 

The last bit is the writing on the wall above the bed. And I share my journey with you as fuel for your own.

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.

Jessie Milo is a writer, artist and poet incarcerated in California. He is a volunteer for and an advocate for mental health.