February 5, 2017
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #466: My Shower Wears Cover-up Makeup
Every so often, prisons get audited, a check-up from the Powers That Be to make sure that everything is running smoothly, that we are being treated ethically, and that the prison is keeping up with all contractual and regulatory obligations regarding the housing of prisoners in their care. In the weeks prior to the audit, everything begins to happen: faucet handles broken for months get fixed, ceiling tiles in the chow hall get replaced, and rust stains on overhead pipes get a fresh coat of hide-all paint. Nothing really changes, except for the appearance of a few things.
The day before auditors are supposed to tour the facility, and the few days they are on-site, walking around with clipboards busy, the food become fresher, hotter; inexplicably, there is slightly more of it on each tray, as if a portion-control and nutritional standard has magically appeared and is now being adhered to. Programs run on time, yard release happens on time, and official posters notifying us who to contact in case of you-name-it are hastily stapled to the dorm’s bulletin boards or affixed to the walls of hallways. How could an auditor not be delighted with the prison’s A-plus-worthy performance?
In preparation for our most-recent audit, prison staff decided to finally do something about the sad state of our showers, sinks, and toilets by sprucing up the flooring. To prepare for the Big Event, we were all told to not use the showers after 6 p.m. one night so that the floor could be completely dry for the application of new surface material. The next morning, everyone went to “mandatory yard” while the paint and maintenance workers … worked.
You’d think that a thick waterproof epoxy sealant would be applied, no? Well, we all returned to the dorm a few hours later to find a beautiful (waterproof!) latex paint on our floor in the bathroom area. We used the showers in an adjacent dorm to let everything dry, while we used only those toilets where they hadn’t painted yet.
Then, late at night, while most of the dorm is asleep except for me and a few others, a small paint crew painted the remaining toilet stalls and switched the location of all the “wet paint. do not enter” signs and plastic chairs meant to block off the painted areas. From my vantage point on my bunk closest to the bathroom entrance, I watched sleep-drunk men walk groggily to the bathroom all night and ruin the fresh paint job.
I’d think, “Ah, this guy’s awake enough. He’ll follow the arrows and avoid the fresh paint.” Nope. At the last second, before I could stop the guy, he’d step over the chair or move the signs, so convinced that they were wrong, that he knew better, remembering where they’d been located when he went to bed earlier. We began to have a beautiful collection of what appeared to be the Easter Bunny using the bathroom all night long, easily trackable by his footprints throughout the dorm.
I finally gave up trying to save the flooring and went to bed, and by morning, the floor in the showers was even worse. (“I’m sorry … were we not supposed to use the showers until after the audit?”) The solution? Paint the floors all over again. This time, I realized at midnight that we had standing water on the shower floor, so I had our dorm officer open the maintenance closet for me. I cleaned the showers then mopped the floors as dry as I could before heading to bed.
The day of the audit dawned, and the paint team was back with strict instructions that the painted floors were now just for decoration, so do not walk on them until evening. Yeah. Sure. Brilliant. I helped clean up the bunny-prints, then disappeared all afternoon into the chow hall where I teach piano.
We survived the audit for the most part. The Grand Tour came through the chow hall at one point, and a sharply-dressed suit lingered behind to ask me about what I was doing with all these guys at all those keyboards. He introduced himself, extending his hand to shake mine, a highly-uncommon gesture in prison (never in regular California facilities; reserved only for very formal occasions, such as graduations, at this privately-run facility). I asked what Dr. Christeo’s job description is and learned he is head of all medical services for GEO Corporation, the company that runs this and other prisons. He and I spoke for a while, and he complimented me on my initiative and drive. Nice.
Everything went immediately back to “normal,” except that now our bathroom floor looks vintage, just as soon as the auditors left. My bathroom looks as if it were originally painted in the 1950’s: weather-beaten quaint. The only fix suggested by the auditors? Install push-button shower controls and faucets in order to restrict water flow. Awesome, since it wasn’t enough for me to be restricted, right? You had to go and restrict my water too.
All of this made me think of my responses when my conscience—my own built-in auditor—is pricked, or when the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin. How do I present myself when I know I’ll be around other believers, who are like God’s auditors as they hold me accountable? Do I hide mistakes, cover up blemishes, glass over failures, or falsify reports? Or, am I brutally honest, choosing to do things right? God, keep me transparent before you and others, that I may especially “keep [my] heart with all diligence.”