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Water sprays from a pipe overhead
Photo by nehruresen on Depositphotos

Day 1

On Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, I noticed water dripping from the ceiling of the ironing room, which is right next to the showers and the door to the pod where we live. We use the room to iron our clothes, store books and wait for chow. 

The leak was flooding into the pod between our showers and around the pod’s door frame. We were instructed to mop up the water. 

It had been raining the day before, so everyone figured it must just be a leak in the roof; once the rain stopped, it would go away. 

Day 2

On Sunday it stopped raining, but there was still a leak. The solution was still to just mop up the water because it was probably just rain. Also, no maintenance person works on the weekends. 

Day 3

By Monday, the water was pooling in our walkway. It was dripping from the ceiling and the doorway where we enter the pod. They said they would call maintenance, but we were told to mop again in the meantime. We took turns mopping. Someone was always mopping so we wouldn’t slip and fall. The water that was now dripping on us was dirty, probably because it was collecting the dirt and dust from the broken pipe before landing on our heads. 

Day 4

7 a.m.: The leak was so bad they couldn’t ignore it any longer. One trash can and three  deep, rolling laundry carts now sat in between our showers to catch the water, but we still had to mop the surrounding floor. 

12 p.m.: Maintenance finally showed up and instructed us to turn on our hot water and leave it on while we were sent to chow. When we got back an hour later, our water was turned off. This meant no water to drink, no water to cook with, no water to shower in or even to flush the toilets. We got no warning about this, so when I peed at 2 p.m., I had no idea I’d be breathing in the stench of urine all afternoon. 

6 p.m.: There was still no water when we returned from dinner. My cellie had to poop, so she went to the sergeant in charge and begged and pleaded with him: “Sir, what should I do? Can I please go somewhere to poop that has running water?” 

Our unit was the only one with water turned off while maintenance fixed the leak. But instead of allowing her to use the toilet in another unit, the sergeant told her to poop in a trash bag. Since we can only take trash out twice a day, it would have sat in a bag by the back door of our cell or a big trash can in the pod for everyone to smell. No, thanks. She held it instead.

There is no escaping how unsanitary this was. No showers that night and no washing hands after going to chow and touching door handles. We knew COVID-19 was real and we couldn’t even protect ourselves with the first line of defense by washing our hands. What about the women on their menstrual cycle? They had no way to clean themselves. 

The worst part was that there was no warning at all. With time to prepare, we could have been ready to improvise. If you could pour a whole bucket of water in the toilet bowl, the pressure is enough to flush. With just a heads up, we could have filled our trash cans with water to bucket flush. The prison was supposed to be taking care of us, but they weren’t providing us with even a basic necessity like water. 

8 p.m.: Finally the cold water was turned on, but we still had no hot water. 

I work in recycling. I collect the trash from the bins in every unit and throw them onto a big trailer to be hauled off. I also pick up the slop buckets and load them onto a trailer. By the time I’m done with work, I need a shower. 

The water was ice cold — so cold that it hurt to take a shower. 

Day 5 

8 a.m.: I got home from work and got in the shower. Goosebumps appeared on my skin as I stood under the ice cold water. I started to shiver. I washed as fast as I could, but I needed to wash all the yuck off me. 

8:30 a.m.: The ceiling started leaking again. I was still shivering from the ice cold shower. 

10:30 a.m.: I locked my door and used the bathroom. To my surprise, the water was turned off again with no warning.

Just as before, had there been a simple announcement we could have prepared. We could have filled our water bottles, put water in our bowls for cooking and filled our trash cans. We could have hurried to use the restroom while we could still flush the toilets. I wouldn’t have peed had I known I couldn’t flush. Instead, I sat in my cell smelling my urine in the toilet. I didn’t even have water to drink.

6 p.m.: The cold water was back on. Finally, I could flush the toilet and brush my teeth. My teeth aren’t in the best condition, so the freezing cold water hurt.

6:30 p.m.: The water was off again without any warning.

8 p.m.: The water was back on. 

Day 6

8:30 a.m.: The water was turned off again. In the past three days, we were only given one water bottle.

11 a.m.: We got a second water bottle, and the hot and cold water were turned back on. But the staff couldn’t tell us if they would stay on or if the leak was fixed.  

Throughout this whole week, we didn’t receive any surplus hygiene supplies. The door to the supply closet was blocked by the wet floor and leaking ceiling. We normally receive a roll of toilet paper and trash bags once a week. We receive tampons and pads at the beginning of each month. Surely they could have brought us supplies from another unit.

Day 7

9 a.m.: The hot and cold water were both still on and the ceiling was not leaking. The trash can and laundry carts were still sitting in our walkway, full of dirty water from the leak. 

We hope this traumatizing event is now finally over.

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.

Alissa Brock is a writer incarcerated in Tennessee.