Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Bunk: Your Bed Away from Home

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Whatever you call it -- bed, rack, pad, piece-of-shit green thing -- your bunk is about the closest you get to a parcel of real estate in prison camp (I guess your locker is, too, but that's more of a condo, really). Many spend a large amount of time in or on their racks. The lower-bunk guys use them as recliners, work tables, sofas and all-around go-to pieces of furniture. The upper bunk guys have a perch.

After three weeks at FPC Duluth, I moved from a 4-man to a 6-man room.

A bunk is more than just a dorm-room furnishing; it's also a form of identity. "Where's Jonas?" "Two fourteen, back wall, up." Your rack is a receptacle for mail, commissary repayments, books and anything else that someone wants to get to you but doesn't want to leave on a desk, or even your chair. Even though your chair may be right next to your rack, it's still a little bit out in the room: too public. More private -- or even clandestine -- deliveries often end up under your pillow, or the regulation-tri-folded blanket at the foot of your bunk. Really private stuff (like onions, peppers or fruit from the dining hall) goes in your pillow case. Hopefully, it's wrapped in a trash bag or disposable kitchen glove. Just as often, it won't be. And that's okay.

My first room at FPC Duluth was Room 215 in Unit 210, or E (for "Erie") Dorm. In a classic example of unnecessary bureaucratic redundancy, each building had 3 different monikers: its number (207-211); its Great Lakes Name (Huron - Superior); or the first letter of the Great Lakes name from the mnemonic H-O-M-E-S. No one knows why. However, different staff members were quite attached to their own way of referring to a building and refused to acknowledge the existence of the other names. For example, going into a visit once, I was asked by a guard what dorm I lived in. I replied with my unit number. He asked me again, and I once again gave him my unit number. Then he asked if I meant "M" Dorm -- this was after I'd moved -- and after thinking for a second, I agreed that yes, perhaps I meant M Dorm. And then he let me into the visiting center so I could see my children. I really appreciated the object lesson buried in that exercise. I learned a lot from it and will carry its meaning with me throughout my life. Really.

Anyway, when I was first led into Room 215 -- E Dorm! -- the two guys already in the room had long-since occupied the lower bunks. It was a four-man room. As I walked in one bunk was pushed back, lengthwise against the far wall, directly opposite the doorway. The other was pushed against the wall to my left, opposite the lockers. The room's windows were in the wall at the foot of the former rack; the desk was attached to the wall between the doorway and the head of the latter set of bunks. I chose the upper bunk on the latter.

I was freaked out, overweight, sad, scared -- and had literally just been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Getting into the top bunk those first few days was not fun. I had to step up onto my chair, put one foot on a peg bolted to the bunk frame and swing myself up onto the bed without falling or hitting my head on the ceiling. If I had to go to the bathroom at night, I had to do this both ways and try not to wake up Chris, my bunkie.

Those first couple weeks were not horrible from a prison-camp living perspective: three of us in a big, four-man room. After a couple weeks, a fourth guy -- Joe -- moved into the other top bunk. Although I envied the ease of use that the lower-bunk guys enjoyed, I got used to the upper bunk in Room 215. The mattress itself was about 4 inches thin... the mattresses in the room were all of varying materials, thicknesses and levels of stain. I was told that mine had been lain on for seven months or so by a 400-lb. short-timer named Country (or occasionally Big Country) who did most of his time in the bunk. I wondered if that was why it was no thicker a couple of pork chops stack on top of one another.

And then one day, at the end of my third week, the trucks came...

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