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Languid Eyes by Jason Glascock #342498
In my dream I repeat “6 am. 6 am. 6 am.”
I need to wake up at 6 A M!
My eyes snap open to a cream-colored cinder block wall and roll over to a clock reading 6:08 am. Perfect. I tighten my muscles, straining as hard as I can, working through the back, legs, shoulders arms jaw, every muscle gets engaged, released and stretched in this wake-up ritual.
6:08 am. I have a few moments before I actually need to get up, but if I stay here, now relaxed after the stretch, I’d likely fall back to sleep; so, I take three deep breaths and get up. The dayroom hasn’t opened yet, it’s quiet, my cellmate is asleep, meaning I need to be as quiet as possible. Piss in the toilet. Flush. Wash hands. Wash face. Rinse mouth. Dress for work in heavy boots and wait for the door to pop with that steel-on-steel hammer sound. Quiet, like I said.
While I’m sitting in the chair waiting for the door, I decide to do some squats to get the heart pumping. Slow, quiet ones that don’t get me breathing hard. I’m facing the dimly lit dayroom through the small window in the door, looking across at the other cells. The dayroom nightlight flashes into my eyes as I go down, disappears as I stand into the shadow. It’s then that I notice the burning of fatigue that wants to force me back into bed, the tiredness I’m trying to drive away with the squats.
Fresh blood to the brain simulates thoughts. For every hour loss of sleep the IQ can drop by 10 points. Sleep deprivation increases heart disease, exasperates diabetes, increases irritability, promotes violence, and a slew of other maleffects. With all these negatives recognized by medical science, departments of corrections around the country have become aware of how to create conditions that enhance the punishment factor of prison. They’ve doubled down on their efforts to make the environment as uncomfortable as possible. One method is to use sleep deprivation. The choice of uncomfortable mattresses, beds that squeak and rattle when a person rolls over, louder toilets, louder sinks, and more. They’ve removed sound absorbent surfaces such as carpet and wood, opting for steel and concrete. They’ve put in more and brighter nightlights that illuminate the bed as if it were daytime. For instance, I sleep with stadium lights shining in my face or reflecting off the dirty-white wall. If I cover my head the officer will pound on the door to wake me up. Light levels are shown to affect the quality of sleep. The beds are short, so in my case with a 6’4” frame, my feet hang off the bed, resting on square steel tubing much of the night. Then there is the heat. Where temperatures over 75°F are known to cause physical stress and negatively impact sleep, the prison now keeps the livings units at ~85°F year-round, all day, all night, somehow justified as part of their energy saving initiative.
All of that runs through my mind as the squats increase blood flow to the brain. Down… Up… Pump-pump. Down… Up…
The burning in the eyes never goes away; a constant irritation throughout the day. At 4:10pm I enter my cell to wait for dayroom to close. I sit down and grab the book I’ve been working my way through. I look at the page and the text goes wonky. I blink a few times and it clears, coming into focus. A few minutes later I snap awake, catching myself from falling out of the chair. I clear my throat, look to the page and find what I last remember reading. A few minutes later, I’m startled awake again by the sound of the book hitting the floor. I need a nap, but I’m dirty, need a shower, and count is within 20 minutes. There’s no way i can get to the showers. My eyes ache, my muscles ache, l know I’m missing things as I struggle to understand the book. Standing will increase my metabolism, but my feet hurt from working in the bad boots, so I sit back down.
I turn on the TV for some news. As I’m watching all the horrible stuff in the world, I hear this gasping snore and realize I’m sleeping again with my head back like a Zippo lighter.
Coffee. The 4th cup of the day will get me going. And squats. Yes, squats!
It’s count and just standing feels exhausting, but I can’t take a nap because it’s time for work. When the dayroom closes, and I clean. Rushing to change mop water, disinfect phones, tables, chairs, vacuum what carpet remains, sweep and mop. There are ramen noodles on the wall, and someone smashed half a Swiss roll into the rug. Not too bad today. 45 minutes of cleaning and then it’s chow time.
I rush into the servery for a cold hamburger on a bun that’s so dry it crumbles in my hand. I shovel the burger and canned pears into my mouth and leave, still chewing as I stand up; the dayroom needs to be finished before it opens in a half hour.
With work done I shower. The combination of work, coffee and shower leaves me feeling refreshed, the sense of fatigue washed from the brain, but I know it’s still there. Military research has shown there is no performance improvement from caffeine for cognitively demanding tasks and does nothing for the tired muscles. So, I don’t feel the need for a nap and keep going.
The night comes and the 9:15pm count approaches. I’m wearing down. I’ve been up all day, moving around, lifting, twisting, etc. I was at a computer for 4 hours doing a college paper, rereading the book and parsing its contents, formulating my argument and crafting supporting clauses. Exhaustion isn’t creeping up, it’s here and I’m pushing myself. 40 more minutes, I tell my body. I can do 40 more.
Count clears on the unit and then I’m in the dayroom cleaning up for the final time. The work increases my heart rate and blood flow. Fatigue is cleaned from my muscles as I wipe the floor with a wet mop. Thrust right. Thrust left. My back muscles countering the forces and I bounce from foot to foot, bending the knees slightly in almost a dance. I breath deeper, engaging, disengaging, and reengaging muscles, oxygenated blood floods every part my body as I run up and down stairs. The work re-energizes my body leaving only the burning grittiness in my eyes.
My 40 minutes of night cleanup ends and I lock-in for the night. Sleep. I know I need sleep but reinvigorated from the light work I choose to take off my boots and socks, kick the feet up and begin reading the book I’d dropped earlier. The grey matter has plenty of energy now and I’m going to make use of it: BBC World News and a book on data structures in the Python programming language. I make a cup of tepid coffee and look in the mirror. My eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, the whites are the tan of straw and itch furiously, heavy-lidded, languid, exhausted. I take a sip of coffee and continue to look at myself for a moment longer, then turn to the book.
I get a good 20 minutes of reading in before an overwhelming sleepiness washes through me. I yawn, continue reading, forcing myself to finish out the chapter. That takes me up to 11pm and I can no longer focus the eyes on the page. The conversation with my cellmate proved that I can’t think either; halfway through sentences I’m losing track of the thought. Now, it’s time for sleep.
Flipping the light off is like turning myself back on. For some reason I get a short burst of wakeup energy from somewhere. Getting into bed, I feel the fatigue of the day fade a little, and I wind up staring at the wall for the next hour, rolling from side to side looking for comfort in an uncomfortable bed with a stadium light blasting my retinas, and the last thing I remember is looking a the clock reading 12:23am before my eyes snap open at 6:03am to start all over.
My experience with sleep deprivation is not unique or unusual. I go for days as I described and then crash. I simply can’t push myself any further and I’ll sleep nearly all day. There are days where my body hurts so bad from lack of sleep I don’t want to do anything. There are nights where I’m overtired and sleep fails to find me until 3am. Next semester I’m going to take 6 credits of courses, and my brain has to perform as well as any college student, and I wonder what it would be like to have full use of what my brain could do, if I could get good sleep.
Please send comments to the following:
Jason R. Glascock #342498
Racine Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 189
Phoenix, MD 21131