A Shower Hotly

A Shower Hotly

There are 10 showers on each block here at M.R., all in a row, separate and self-contained.  Like every shower at every step along the correctional highway, there are no “hot” and “cold” knobs, just a button you push which sets the water streaming for 30 seconds or so, but some of them are stuck “on.”

The pop-culture assumption that the showers are wide open and unsupervised, where you aren’t supposed to pick up dropped soap because that makes you vulnerable to rape, is wrong.  That isn’t to say that some other states’ prisons don’t have showers like that, but they aren’t common in Michigan.

The most dangerous part of the showers here is how freaking hot they get.  I just got out of one, and I swear I could have taken a fresh egg in and stepped out with one hard-boiled.  It was hot, but I would rather take a hot one than a cold one.  In a hot one, you can maneuver around and get clean, but cold is cold, and there’s no getting around that.  Of course, the water always gets coldest in the winter.

It’s funny to me to hear these men, who talk so tough about the lives they led out there—the fights (fists, knives, and guns), the women, the “gangster” life—and then hear them moan about the temperature of the water in the shower they just took.  Talk is cheap, but some of these men have literally been shot and stabbed, many bear the tell-tale scar along the cheek of someone coming up behind them in prison and cutting them, then running, but they step in a too-hot shower and you’d think sulfuric acid had just shot out of the shower head.  They sound like a bunch of babies.

As usual, what will happen if the water remains as hot as it is today (the upside to the very hot water is the water that comes out of the sinks in every cell is perfect for coffee!), there will be a concerted effort at a complaining campaign.

Prisoners are expert complainers.  If they spent half the time and energy they do bitching on bettering themselves, they would be formidable intellectual threats (some of them are already) to the broken judicial and correctional system.  It’s simply easier to complain (you should hear them when the water turns orange from the flushing of the city pipes!) and after awhile the complaining works, unfortunately.  People quickly tire of hearing it and simply eliminate the problem.  Or the complainer.

So, the water will cool off, and then it will probably get cold, and I won’t be able to make decent coffee by simply filling my cup with the water from the faucet.  Now, if you want to hear me cry like a baby, just mess with my coffee.

Actually, I don’t complain too much as long as I have coffee (instant Maxwell House—imagine that coffee snobs, instant!) because I can vividly remember when I was in the county jail, where we only got coffee at breakfast twice a week. I’m very grateful to have coffee, and if I sometimes have to drink it cooler than I’d like, I’ll be all right.

The problem with the constant drone of complaint is that the people hearing it also begin to tune it out, so when you really have something to complain about, they don’t hear you.  Like the boy who cried Wolf, only these guys cry, Hot!  And next week it’ll be something else.

When I complain, I fool myself into thinking my complaints are more valid.  Like the library—how there’s that back room with all manner of books with no way for me to get to them!  The book this week is from the library, but it’s a new one to the sci-fi section.

The only other Philip K. Dick I’ve read is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which is more famous, I think, as that noir-science fiction classic movie, Bladerunner.  In it, Harrison Ford is a cop hunting Replicants, which are androids impossible to tell apart from actual humans.  The Replicants have to be hunted down because they have been known to go berserk and kill people.  Except Harrison goes and falls in love with a beautiful robot (who hasn’t done that?).

The other movie with a great plot is Minority Report, which is based on a PKD short story (Total Recall is too, but I haven’t seen that).  I have always been very envious of the plot to Minority Report:  In the future the police are able, through a complex set of circumstances involving pre-cogs, who are sensitive triplets (just watch the movie, I don’t even know  how to explain it without taking up about 3 pages) the police are able to “see” a murder before it happens, and people are arrested before committing the actual crime by the Pre-Crime Division.  It’s a very entertaining, speculative, yet believable movie.

A Scanner Darkly was also made into a movie, which I haven’t seen.  This book is also about a drug-using cop and user (the Tom Cruise character in Minority Report is a user, as well) of Substance D which, not unlike actual drugs, splits the user’s personality.  The cop’s house is wired up with scanners and he’s watching himself as someone else.  He’s an undercover cop, but he’s also a regular person.  The book is an indictment of drug use, but also of the schizophrenic nature of police work.

PKD was a great writer—like Raymond Chandler, except his detectives are set in the future.  This book is very “quiet,” and is probably easily overlooked as a near masterpiece.  There is lots of entertaining banter that seems pretty accurate for non-sensical druggie talk, and when the end comes, you’ve seen it coming, and it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.  Also, in the “Author’s Note” at the end, he gives a long list of people he’s known who have died as the result of addiction.

There are no simple answers when it comes to drug use.  It often ends in tragedy, or prison, where the showers are as unpredictable as life.

A Scanner Darkly
Philip K. Dick
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books (1977)

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About the Author

Curtis Dawkins is BULL's chief book reviewer. He earned an M.F.A. from Western Michigan University and is currently an inmate at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Michigan. His short story collection, Prison Ink, is the first release from BULL Books.