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Shadows of prison bars cast on prison cell #13 at Alcatraz
Photo by Vanessa Werder on Unsplash

Sight: The cell block is all white with blue trim. Sixty men on the tier — 90% percent Black, everyone in white state-issued uniforms. 

Sound: I hadn’t heard a phone ring in over a year and a half. Almost cried when I did. Scared me. Took my mind some time to catch up, to decipher the source. Chatter. Chitchat. Jail talk. Yelling. Whispering. Much of little substance. A lot of trauma, hurt and abuse. Bickering. Arguments.

Smell: Extra heavy on the mayonnaise. It’s used to “cook” everything in the microwave. The grease and oily taste makes everything better, or so they say. The smell of ramen noodle seasoning packets, the salt mixture so thick in the air it penetrates even sleep. Clothing. Our unit’s collective body odor is cut by the female guard’s perfume. I wish my brothers would brush their teeth more often. Floss too. Halitosis turns my stomach.

Touch: Do not touch anything! It’s customary to squat on the pot using your shower shoes. People share theirs, sit them on the counters and the tables by the microwave. Keeps me awake at night. I swear I can hear the germs scheming, chittering, multiplying. They’re going to kill a mouse. Attack the population. 

Taste: Today is Fish Friday. Three years’ worth of Fish Fridays. Menu is the same from week to week; taste buds weep. I believe the kitchen has its own police: flavor police. A soup Nazi warden guarding the spices. Armed. Marching. Day and night.

Fish Friday is the microwave’s busiest day. I catch a cod near my foot. Nobody eats the fish. Not even the rodents.

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.

Daniel Mopkins is a writer incarcerated in Delaware.