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Is there enough toilet paper in this Florida prison?
Photo by londondeposit on Depositphotos

This article was first published by Endeavor, a newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami. Aside from the headline, it appears as it was published and has not been edited by PJP.

They are referred to as health and comfort items — toilet tissue, soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush. Every seven days, residents are issued one roll of toilet tissue and one bar of nondescript soap. This bar is often referred to and aptly described as “hotel-sized.” A tube of toothpaste and one toothbrush are issued every 30 days. 

Are these items big enough to last for that time frame? Or are residents having to purchase toiletries from the canteen to supplement what is currently provided by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC)?

One of the biggest complaints among residents is toilet tissue. Many have noticed that each perforated square has become somewhat smaller and the number of sheets per roll has been reduced. As such, users now have to make do with less. Several scenarios may precipitate needing additional toilet tissue: an unexpected medical condition requiring more restroom use than normal; eating something that doesn’t agree with the digestive system; catching a cold or suffering from allergies.

In a survey conducted by The Endeavor, 60 residents were asked several questions about toilet tissue and soap.

One resident said he could make a roll last up to 13 days by only using five squares at a time. 

Meanwhile, resident Christopher Masferrer suffers from ulcerative colitis, a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease, requiring him to use the bathroom five to six times a day. On average, he purchases from the canteen three rolls of toilet tissue a week, on top of the roll issued weekly. 

“Going to the bathroom is a necessity. I can’t turn it off,” Masferrer said. “What happens when the canteen runs out of toilet paper or you’re refused a roll from the officer’s station? At what point does it become inhumane?” 

During the pandemic, residents were issued two bars of soap. Post-COVID, we have become accustomed to washing our hands more regularly. Now that we’re down to one, we have to do so — and also shower —  with only a single bar of soap.

According to the majority of respondents (78.3%), the bar only lasts three days or less. 

Residents in confinement can only shower three days a week while the general population has virtually unlimited access to showers. Both scenarios, though vastly different, share a common trait: Residents may shower and wash hands with only the one small bar.

Are more residents finding themselves having to purchase additional rolls of tissue from the canteen or, out of desperation, trading food in the name of staying sanitary? 

One could purchase supplemental items from the canteen, it’s true, but the canteen doesn’t stock an endless supply of tissue. Once it’s out, it could be a whole week before they restock. 

During the pandemic, news stations reported on severe shortages of toilet tissue, discovering consumers who would hoard whatever rolls they could find. Though we have the worst of COVID in our rearview mirror, here at Everglades Correctional Institution (ECI) we’re suffering from a residual effect of shortages.

Another option is to ask, sometimes cajole, an officer manning the officer’s station if extra rolls are available.

In a dorm that houses 224 men, will there be enough to go around? If say just 5% of the dorm’s population requested a roll daily, that’s an extra 11 rolls per day — 77 in a week. A limited number of rolls are delivered daily to each dorm. Will there be enough?

For those residents unable to afford additional hygiene items, their hands become tied, rationing or doing without once their weekly supply is depleted. No person should have to sacrifice proper sanitary measures for the sake of making a roll of toilet tissue and a bar of soap last seven days. A person without the financial means should not be lost in the struggle.

Thankfully, ECI does offer an institutional indigence program, whereby residents with financial difficulties may receive much-needed hygiene items. Those who feel they would qualify are encouraged to contact their classification officer for further details. 

Measures should be taken to ensure an adequate supply of toilet tissue is maintained in the officer’s station and in each canteen (just look at how often these items are sold out and how fast it occurs). The size of the current rolls being purchased and distributed should be evaluated to reflect the sanitary needs and frequency of use by the consumers, the residents of ECI.

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.

Gervasio "Julio" Torres Jr. is a member of Exchange for Change’s Leadership Council, creator and co-facilitator for the “Just Write” writing class for colleagues, an active member of the Draft Picks Gavel Club, and a copy editor/senior writer for a monthly newsletter. He is incarcerated in Florida.