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Dirty Laundry

When I was growing up and when I lived on my own, I remember going to laundry mats to wash clothes. This seems like such an intimate part of our lives that we have to handle in the public sector. My family usually had a washer and dryer in the house. We call it washing clothes. Really, it’s just a simple act of putting the clothes in the washer and then turning it on. Upon completion of the wash cycle, we move the wet clothes into the dryer. I also remember from my younger days; my mother would put clothes on the line to dry. A big chore for us was folding the clothes.

I was raised in a time when the technology of a washing machine was pretty common. Before that, people had to hand wash clothes. I’m not exactly sure how that process looked, but I remember seeing washing boards in antique stores. And that may seem like a time-consuming process, but let’s think back, before running water. You would have to find a good creek where you could wash clothes. It’s fascinating to observe how technology has revolutionized such an essential aspect of our daily lives.

Reflecting on the history of laundry makes us appreciate the convenience and time-saving advantages of modern washing machines and dryers. We often take for granted the ability to clean our clothes quickly and efficiently, and the luxury of being able to wear clothes only once before washing them. It’s easy to overlook the benefits of having a washer and dryer at home, but these appliances are a true blessing that we should not take for granted. The ability to clean our clothes at our convenience and without much physical effort is a tremendous privilege that our ancestors did not have. Think about all the time that is saved by washing machines and dryers. Think about how you will wear clothes only once because you have the option to throw the in the laundry and wash them at your convenience. That washer and dryer that is so available to you is something that you might not take the time to appreciate.

The reason I brought you through this history lesson was to bring attention to the fact that, in prison, washing clothes takes on new meaning. Prisons have a commissary where you can send your clothes and bed linens to be washed, but when you look around at everyone’s clothes, you can tell who sends their clothes to commissary by the tint of their t-shirts. In a few dorms there are washers and dryers that are used to do personal washes. Usually, one man is assigned to the job of doing personal washes to keep order over the machines. In prison, laundry becomes more than just a routine task; it becomes an opportunity for social interaction, bartering, and a source of pride. It’s a unique aspect of prison life that is often overlooked but is critical to an inmate’s daily routine.

So, what happens when you are in a dorm that doesn’t have its own washer and dryer and you don’t want your t-shirts to be tan? There are actually a few options. I’m going to name two of the options from my experience. You can hand wash them, either in your sink, your toilet, or in a bucket. Or, you can pay someone else to hand wash them. These are two of the best options. I will explain a little bit about how these two options work.

Washing clothes in prison is very time consuming. I feel like I have spent most of my life washing clothes after being locked up for close to 20 years. If I find myself in a dorm where there is no washer and dryer, I generally wash my own clothes. Many factors could complicate this process. Sometimes the sink runs like a water fountain in the rooms. You can imagine how long it would take to wash clothes in a water fountain (or maybe you can’t). If you can’t imagine, just trust me, it takes a long time. Sometimes you can get a bucket to help with the process and sometimes you can’t. Many times men will use a mop bucket lined with a trash bag as a wash bucket. The absolute best way I have figured out, is to wash my clothes while in the shower. If you have the option to bring a bucket into the shower, this speeds up the process even more. And how can I skip over washing your clothes in the toilet. Although this may sound disgusting, it is actually very convenient. The main thing is to clean the toilet thoroughly and bleach it down. If you can get past thinking about all the nastiness of the toilet, you will find that it is a very convenient avenue of washing clothes.

Once your clothes are washed, you have to find a place to hang them up to dry. You have to create your own clothes line in your room. We can buy clothes hangers from the canteen so this makes it easier to condense the space taken up by our clothes line. Keep in mind that generally we live in the room with another person, so this all has to be worked around them. You also have to work around the rules of the institution. Generally, clothes lines are not allowed, though many times, they are overlooked by the guards. Keeping your clothes washed as you get them dirty is the best way to maintain your laundry. Large amounts of clothes are time consuming and hard to find places to hang them to dry.

The second option, paying the laundry man, is much more convenient. Washing clothes is a job that will always be available in prison. You can always find people willing to pay to have their clothes washed. The terms of the agreement may vary from institution to institution or from man to man. I would say that a pretty solid agreement would be 50 cents per clothing item. Usually, you provide a bar of soap and the laundry man takes care of the entire process. Your clothes will come back to you clean, dry and nicely folded. The laundry man is able to make as much money as he is willing to wash clothes. He has to find ways to increase his washing volume, places to dry the clothes, and things like a bucket, bleach, or other utensils that make his job easier and his services superior to others. A good laundry man will usually give you deals and always have something that makes your clothes smell really good. Washing clothes is one of the best prison hustles. There will always be a need for it and if you are willing to work, you can make money from nothing but your labor.

If you are reading this sitting in your cell and you are in a dorm with its own washer and dryer, be appreciative. If you are in the comfort of your own home and you have a washer and dryer, be appreciative. When you put your clothes in the washer and hit a button, take a second to think how long it would take to wash your clothes by hand, in your sink, in the shower, or maybe even in your toilet. Think about your ancestors looking for a creek to wash their clothes in. Think about all the technological advances that have made that washer and dryer available at a reasonable price. A perfect example of how we can be appreciative of society and our fellow man.


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