One of the joys of prison life is waking up early in the morning before the sun rises to drop off and/or to exchange laundry. OK…..just kidding. It’s definitely not a joy, but a must in order to have “clean” cloths. It is a five day a week adventure. For me, Mondays and Wednesdays are my dirty laundry drop-off days. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my “clean” clothes pick-up days. Thursdays are also my bed sheet exchange days. And Fridays are my blanket exchange day.
You may be wondering why the word “clean” is in quotation marks. Clean is a very vague term when it comes to centralized laundry. Up until a year ago, each of the units had their own washing and drying machines. We were able to buy our own detergent and dryer sheets. We would make our own personal clothes clean. But the Warden said that in order to conserve water, they were going to remove all laundry machines and make all laundry centralized. A few percentages of the inmates still wash their clothes in buckets by hand. But the majority of the inmates use the laundry services, which is an adventure every day.
When exchanging sheets, towels or blankets you never know what kind of condition the ones you get back will be in. The vast majority of them has holes and is covered with all kinds of mysterious stains. And they usually smell like they just came out of a wet and moldy closet. Because a lot of the inmates have terrible hygiene, they don’t exchange their sheets or blankets that often, thus causing the white items to become orange tinted or yellow. It is quite disgusting, especially since I am a clean freak. But I just deal with it because I have to. And the “clean” clothes one gets back sometimes smell worse than when turned in. If you decide to rewash your clothes yourself after receiving them back from the centralized laundry, the water will be brown when wringing them out. Nice, isn’t it? So if you like to be clean, prison is not the place for you….so don’t do anything stupid to go.
The correctional officer (C0) that runs laundry usually organizes it by having three to four lines every day at the same time, since every inmate has different days to exchange and wash their clothes. Inmates help run the lines. With sleepy inmates crawling out of bed with their eyes barely open, they have to figure out the appropriate line to get in for their appropriate task. The worst part is that every day the CO switches the lines up, so you never know what line to stand in. Is this an exchange line or a drop-off line? Or is it a pick-up line? Is this a sheets only line, or am I in a clothes line? If you get to the front of the line and you are not supposed to be in that line, the CO makes you go to the very end of your appropriate line. Now, if you have read some of my previous blogs you understand that prison lines are usually long and very slow moving. So before getting in a line, it’s best to watch and ask which line is the correct one.
The CO also loves to argue and put on a show. He will stop every line just to argue. Because many inmates love to mouth off, I’m sure you can imagine the scene that one causes each morning. In my opinion, he is the leading candidate for sending the most inmates to “the hole.” Why inmates just don’t close their mouths, I’ll never understand.
The other day I go to pick up my laundry. I handed the CO my ID card and wait for one of the inmate workers to retrieve my clothes. While waiting, I notice my name on the “No Wash” board. I’m like, oh great, now what? A few minutes later the CO calls me over. I think to myself, “Here we go; he’s going to try to pick a fight. So I walk over and this is what happens.
CO: Mr. Perino, do you know why I did not wash these clothes?
Me: No, I do not.
C0: Raising his voice and getting angry he says, “Well, it looks to me that in your bag you have a pillow case mixed in with your other clothes. And a pillow case is not to be washed in your laundry bag. Pillow cases are only allowed to be exchanged one for one on your appropriate day.
Me: Knowing that he was trying to get me to raise my voice and yell back at him, I calmly said, “OK, sorry, so you didn’t wash any of these clothes?”
The other inmates are quiet behind me and are listening to every word and just waiting for the two of us to start yelling at each other.
CO: Angrily he says, “That’s right!”
Now I had two choices: Walk away and bring my clothes back another day or get the last word in like all the inmates wanted me to do. I chose the second option.
Me: I look at the CO and as nicely as I can, I smile sincerely and seriously say, “Thank you. I appreciate it.” Then walk away.
CO: While the other inmates are laughing behind me, the CO, dumfounded, speechless, and stuttering, says, “uh…oh….your welcome.”
My cellie saw the entire scene unfold and he said that after I walked away, the CO was so confused at what just happened. He told me that he was trying to pick a fight, while I used kind and polite words to speak to him. My cellie said the CO was in shock for the next minute and that it was pretty hilarious because he didn’t know how to react to the kindness. It wasn’t a normal reaction.
I had a choice that day on how to react to my clothes not being washed. And I know I was in a situation in which I would not win. So I chose to take the higher road and to treat his angry ways with kindness. I can’t say that I always say the right thing or even do the right thing. But I do my best to lead by example the way God wants me to lead, especially in prison. I’m not sure if I impacted the CO in a positive way that day or not, but it doesn’t matter. God knows our hearts and intentions by what we do and say. I know it is hard sometimes, but maybe the next time you are in a confrontation with your boss, wife, or husband or even some random person, treat them with kindness instead. For God says to not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good and do everything in love.